|Author||Pearl S. Buck|
|Publisher||John Day Company|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Good Earth|
|Followed by||A House Divided|
The story tackles the issue of Wang Lung's sons and how they handle their father's estate after his death. It deals mostly with the youngest son, who goes off to war in The Good Earth, and his son.
As Wang Lung lies near death, his family prepares for his funeral, including the first two of his three sons. They send for their brother and are surprised to see him leading a band of soldiers into the town. After he left home near the end of The Good Earth, he joined the army of a warlord and quickly rose in the ranks. Once Wang Lung is dead and buried and his land divided among the sons, they find themselves drawn together in unusual ways even as they drift apart.
Wang the Third (“The Tiger”) demands that his brothers (Eldest, “The Landlord,” and Second, “The Merchant”) sell his share and give him his inheritance in silver, and also asks to borrow as much money as they can lend him. He needs the funds in order to break away from the warlord and set himself up with an army of his own. Since he has no sons, he asks his brothers to send him some of theirs, receiving one from each of them. The Merchant’s smallpox-scarred oldest son quickly proves himself a useful aide, but the Landlord’s dainty second son hates life as a soldier and hangs himself during a visit to the family home. As time passes, the Landlord is forced to sell much of his share of the land in order to support his family’s lavish lifestyle, with the Merchant buying the best tracts for himself.
The Tiger leads his men north, into the territory of a cruel warlord known as the Leopard, and kills him with the help of a trap prepared by the county magistrate. His men take over the Leopard’s large army, which begins to collect taxes from the local population. The Tiger also captures a hostile young woman who had been the Leopard’s consort and imprisons her for a time, then releases her after putting an end to the corruption in the magistrate’s courts. He is surprised when she – now greatly calmed – decides to remain with him and become his wife.
At the same time, power struggles have begun to grow between the Chinese ruler and local warlords, some of whom want to depose him. The Tiger calls on the Merchant to smuggle guns into the country for his growing army, but his wife tries to divert them to a band of robbers, for which he kills her. He later takes two new wives and leads his forces southeast to lay siege to the capital of a coastal territory and unseat its warlord. Upon returning to his first stronghold, he discovers that his wives have given birth to his first two children, a son and a daughter.
The death of old Lotus, the concubine Wang Lung took decades ago, coupled with the Tiger's disgust at his brothers and their sons, prompts him to try to do better with his own son. The Tiger begins to introduce him to military life with the goal of eventually putting him in command of the army, but the boy shows more interest in farming as Wang Lung did. Upon learning that one of his top aides is plotting to rebel against him, the Tiger storms the coastal capital to kill him, but the man commits suicide first.
A severe famine strikes much of the countryside, and the Tiger is forced to deal harshly with his hungry men and turn to his brothers for help. At this time, Wang Lung’s mentally retarded daughter (the “Poor Fool”) dies, further fueling the Tiger's son’s interest in the land on which she had lived. The rift between the two grows when the boy turns fifteen and his father sends him to a military school; four years later, the Tiger is shocked to see him wearing the uniform of an army that is fighting a revolution against the government and the warlords. However, the young man does not intend to battle his father as an enemy, but rather to hide among the rural farmers until the upheaval has ended. The Tiger is left to reconcile himself to the fact that both his life and his son’s have turned out far differently than he had planned.