My choices for the most enduring novels of 1931 are an odd lot. Though very different, each is difficult reading for readers accustomed to stereotypical characters and happy endings.
Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth surely belongs on the list both for its vivid prose and its glimpse into nearly extinct Chinese culture. However, I don’t think the novel is appealing to most people in the world today. In a metropolitan world that values property, The Good Earth celebrates an agrarian society that values land.
Maid in Waiting by John Galsworthy has a similar set of vitues and deficits. I’m afraid the self-controlled, cultured, public-sprited citizens who keep populate this and others of Galsworthy’s 9-volume Forsyte saga will appear as preposterous to today’s readers as farmer Wung Lu. However, Galsworthy has amazing facility to reveal character in undramatic contexts, and he’s a wonderful writer.
The Road Back by Erich Maria Remarque is a glimpse of Germany after World War I. As soldiers return home, they find their country and themselves changed forever. The novel provides insight into the origins of World War II. It also is a powerful glimpse into the effects of post traumatic stress.
Equally compelling reading is Fannie Hurst’s Back Street. This novel about a kept woman might better be called a novel of an ill-kept woman. Even the son is appalled by the conditions in which his father’s mistress was forced to live while her financier-philanthropist lover lived in luxury.