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So Big

So Big

4.3 29
by Edna Ferber

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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and widely considered to be Edna Ferber's greatest achievement, So Big is a classic novel of turn-of-the-century Chicago. It is the unforgettable story of Selina Peake DeJong, a gambler's daughter, and her struggles to stay afloat and maintain her dignity and her sanity in the face of marriage, widowhood, and single


Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and widely considered to be Edna Ferber's greatest achievement, So Big is a classic novel of turn-of-the-century Chicago. It is the unforgettable story of Selina Peake DeJong, a gambler's daughter, and her struggles to stay afloat and maintain her dignity and her sanity in the face of marriage, widowhood, and single parenthood. A brilliant literary masterwork from one of the twentieth century's most accomplished and admired writers, the remarkable So Big still resonates with its unflinching view of poverty, sexism, and the drive for success.

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So Big

Chapter One

Until he was almost ten the name stuck to him. He had literally to fight his way free of it. From So Big (of fond and infantile derivation) it had been condensed into Sobig. And Sobig Dejong, in all its consonantal disharmony, he had remained until he was a ten-year-old schoolboy in that incredibly Dutch district southwest of Chicago known first as New Holland and later as High Prairie. At ten, by dint of fists, teeth, copper-toed boots and temper, he earned the right to be called by his real name, Dirk Dejong. Now and then, of course, the nickname bobbed up and had to be subdued in a brief and bitter skirmish. His mother, with whom the name had originated, was the worst offender. When she lapsed he did not, naturally, use schoolyard tactics on her. But he sulked and glowered portentously and refused to answer, though her tone, when she called him So Big, would have melted the heart of any but that natural savage, a boy of ten.

The nickname had sprung from the early and idiotic question invariably put to babies and answered by them, with infinite patience, through the years of their infancy.

Selina Dejong, darting expertly about her kitchen, from washtub to baking board, from stove to table, or, if at work in the fields of the truck farm, straightening the numbed back for a moment's respite from the close-set rows of carrots, turnips, spinach, or beets over which she was labouring, would wipe the sweat beads from nose and forehead with a quick duck of her head in the crook of her bent arm.

Those great fine dark eyes of hers would regard the child perched impermanently on a little heap of empty potato sacks, oneof which comprised his costume. He was constantly detaching himself from the parent sack heap to dig and burrow in the rich warm black loam of the truck garden. Selina Dejong had little time for the expression of affection. The work was always hot at her heels. You saw a young woman in a blue calico dress, faded and earth-grimed. Between her eyes was a driven look as of one who walks always a little ahead of herself in her haste. Her dark abundant hair was skewered into a utilitarian knob from which soft loops and strands were constantly escaping, to be pushed back by that same harried ducking gesture of head and bent arm. Her hands, for such use, were usually too crusted and inground with the soil into which she was delving. You saw a child of perhaps two years, dirt-streaked, sunburned, and generally otherwise defaced by those bumps, bites, scratches, and contusions that are the common lot of the farm child of a mother harried by work. Yet, in that moment, as the woman looked at the child there in the warm moist spring of the Illinois prairie land, or in the cluttered kitchen of the farmhouse, there quivered and vibrated between them and all about them an aura, a glow, that imparted to them and their surroundings a mystery, a beauty, a radiance.

"How big is baby?" Selina would demand, senselessly. "How big is my man?"

The child would momentarily cease to poke plump fingers into the rich black loam. He would smile a gummy though slightly weary smile and stretch wide his arms. She, too, would open her tired arms wide, wide. Then they would say in a duct, his mouth a puckered pink petal, hers quivering with tenderness and a certain amusement, "So-o -o big!" with the voice soaring on the prolonged vowel and dropping suddenly with the second word. Part of the game. The child became so habituated to this question that sometimes, if Selina happened to glance round at him suddenly in the midst of her task, he would take his cue without the familiar question being put and would squel his "So-o-o-o big!" rather absently, in dutiful solo. Then he would back his head and laugh a triumphant laugh, his open mouth, a coral orifice. She would run to him, and swoop down upon him, and bury her flushed face in the warm moist creases of his neck, and make as though to devour him. "So big!"

But of course he wasn't. He wasn't as big as that. In fact, he never became as big as the wide-stretched arms of her love and imagination would have had him. You would have thought she should have been satisfied when, in later years, he was the Dirk Dejong whose name you saw (engraved) at the top of heavy cream linen paper, so rich and thick and stiff as to have the effect of being starched and ironed by some costly American business process; whose clothes were made by Peter Peel, the English tailor; whose roadster ran on a French chassis; whose cabinet held mellow Italian vermouth and Spanish sherry; whose wants were served by a Japanese houseman; whose life, in short, was that of the successful citizen of the Republic. But she wasn't. Not only was she dissatisfied: she was at once remorseful and indignant, as though she, Selina Dejong, the vegetable peddler, had been partly to blame for this success of his, and partly cheated by it.

When Selina Dejong had been Selina Peake she had lived in Chicago with her father. They had lived in many other cities as well. In Denver during the rampant '80s. In New York when Selina was twelve. In Milwaukee briefly. There was even a San Francisco interlude which was always a little sketchy in Selina's mind and which had ended in a departure so hurried as to bewilder even Selina who had learned to accept sudden comings and abrupt goings without question. "Business," her father always said. "Little deal." She never knew until the day of his death how literally the word deal was applicable to his business transactions. Simeon Peake, travelling the country with his little daughter, was a gambler by profession, temperament, and natural talents. When in luck they lived royally, stopping at the best hotels, eating strange, succulent sea-viands, going to the play, driving in hired rigs (always with two horses. If Simeon Peake had not enough money for a two-horse equipage he walked). When fortune hid her face they lived in boarding houses, ate boarding-house meals, wore the clothes bought when Fortune's breath was balmy.

So Big. Copyright (c) by Edna Ferber . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Edna Ferber (1885-1968) was a novelist, short-story writer, and playwright whose work served as the inspiration for numerous Broadway plays and Hollywood films, including Show Boat, Cimarron, Giant, Saratoga Trunk, and Ice Palace. She co-wrote the plays The Royal Family, Dinner at Eight, and Stage Door with George S. Kaufman and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1925 for her novel So Big.

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So Big 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
So Big is seamlessly, beautifully written. One chapter flows into another. No book has ever held my attention span quite like So Big. However, the ending definitely left something to be desired. I even thought I might be missing a chapter! Be warned. If you must have a happy ending or an ending with definite finality, then this book is not for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I ever read, and I don't say that lightly!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought the book had a really good message. Good required reading for high school students today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
a book about the different types of people in life...what you are living life for? the beauty of everyday life. seeing beauty in the earth. a strong woman-figure. this book is definitely one of my favorites.
Guest More than 1 year ago
a story about a mother having a rough time on a farm south of chicago a 100 or so years ago is not the type of book i am attracted to. but edna ferber tells this story so beautifully that i can say it was one of the best books i have read in the last few years. the lead character selena is one of my favorite female portraits and some of the scenes, particularly when she runs into an old friend in a elegant part of chicago are magnificent. i loved this book
Anonymous 15 days ago
wonderfully written...wish we had this quality of story telling today...seems to be a lost art... it taught a lesson on several levels, one of which is do no confuse success with happiness
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Edna Ferber, a celebrated author, is well worth reading. So Big is well written, with a very believable plot, setting and cast of characters. She captures the human spirit well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"So Big" is filled with simple windom. It is beyond the rural life of farmers  in Chicago at the turn of century, which is only part of what the book is about. The messages Ferber was trying to convey left me in deep thinking for days. A good number of people is annoyed by the ending but I think that is what Ferber wanted the readers to fill in the shoes themselves by doing some critical thinking of our own. I think this book is deep and philosophical. In another words, not a light or fun read but a serious one instead. i enjoyed it. The plot is nothing "wow," but it is meaningful. The languages used, the solid plot, strong and positive  messages are something I find most of the new releases lack. 
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was ok, didn't enjoy it as much as "Giant"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best stories I've read. Timeless and thoughtful. Amazing book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book without reservations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, I reread it once a year
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Learned some interesting things about Dutch immigrants and truck farming....this book kept my interest and was entertaining.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book for people watchers who appreciate character insight. I picked this book randomly and I'm ecstatic to have found an author who SEES people. It's a relief to read a story about people that acknowledges how interesting we can be, no matter what "grand" events are (or are not) in our lives.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sooo sorry babe my nook died and the crarger wasn't working. Please im sorry.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not well developed. The characters seem one dementional at best and the plot is all over the place. This is one of those books that is hard to follow but uses beautiful language so it is labled artistic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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