The Wu family is a powerful, highly-respected family who possess a great deal of land. The ancient Wu family has built their fortune and esteem generation by generation. They live in a rambling house full of enough courts to house their sons and their sons' wives and children, cousins, distant relatives, cooks, and servants to wait on their every need.
Madame Wu, the head of the family, decides that after she reaches her 40th birthday, she has fulfilled her duties as a wife and mother and will retire to pursue her own interests. She remembers her father-in-law sharing the family's library with her and forbidding her to read certain books that were intended only for men. She decides that she would like to spend the remaining half of her life reading those books in the library. She finds a small wife for her husband and then moves into her own separate rooms.
Madame Wu finds a priest, a foreign man from Venice, to tutor her in a little bit of English and they also talk of philosophical things. Madame Wu is blown away by his way of looking at the world, a way of respecting the individual's right to follow his dreams. She introduces these concepts to her family, and slowly the family untangles itself from one another and each person begins to follow their own path. A few of them work together towards a vision of building schools and hospitals in their poor community, others just grow fat and lazy, and one of them is struck by tragedy.
It's been awhile since I read The Good Earth, but I think I enjoyed this book better. It's very easy to read, each character in the book is unique and vividly drawn, and the overall message is a good one.
This is my 100th book of the year (#100 completely by accident, but at least it was a book I thoroughly enjoyed)!