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Alison Wall , winner of the Letters About Literature Level III prize covering grades nine through twelve

Dear Ms. Buck:

For eleven years I prayed for a younger sibling, wished on every star, and threw pennies in every wishing well. Through your adoption agency, Welcome House, my hopes became a reality. In December of 1995, my life changed when my adopted sister arrived from Vietnam. I was not prepared though for the turmoil that followed.

Liana had endured physical abuse, deprivation, and abandonment by her mother in Ha Bac and was compelled to live in the harsh conditions of an orphanage for over two years. When she arrived, I only wanted her to reciprocate the love I already felt for her, but the walls she had built around herself refused to come down. Only eight years old, she already could not trust. Liana was a rose bush, beautiful to look at, but painful to touch.

Her anger became mine. I resented those who had hurt her unable to comprehend how a mother could leave her child. It was not until almost seven years later that I found peace in The Good Earth. Your cultural insights allowed me to grasp the way of life Liana and her mother had to survive.

This story of Wang Lung illustrated to me how the nourishing power of the land controls those who depend on it. This provided me with a glimpse of the life facing poor farmers; little can be done when the earth does not yield crops. When O-Lan gives birth to a daughter, she smothers the baby because it would be an impossible burden on the family. "The round head dropped this way and that and upon the neck he saw two dark, bruised spots. ...'It is better as it is,' he muttered to himself, and for the first time was wholly filled with despair." I forced myself to read this passage several times, its familiarity gripping me.

I was tempted to condemn O-Lan, but when I considered that her actions were necessary for the survival of her other children, I was able to view Liana's mother in a new light. I began to feel sorry for her rather than hate her. I had never imagined the possibility that it was painful for Liana's mother to give her up. Because her actions seemed so cold, I never envisioned her as having suffered. I now believe that she felt trapped by such extreme poverty that abandonment became her only option. Reading about O-Lan's sorrow after killing her daughter made me believe that Liana's mother also mourned the loss of her daughter.

My understanding of the culture that my sister lived in is deepening as I continue to reflect on The Good Earth. The love I have for my sister has been revived, and my anger has slowly subsided. A weight has been lifted off my heart that will finally allow me to press forward in my relationship with the sister I had always dreamed of having.


Alison Wall


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