My recommendation is that you find a copy of So Big by Edna Ferber and read it right now. It is the Great American Novel. Don't worry if you aren't an American because the tale of Selina Peake is universal. It just happens to take place in and near Chicago in the years just before and after the turn of the twentieth century.
I wouldn't dare give away any of the plot. I will tell you that Ms. Peake is an adventurous soul who is up for anything life has to send her way. She is a sparkling, glittering personality who finds herself in the mud and the poverty of a small truck-farming community south of Chicago. And still she continues to shine. She is a woman who finds beauty in the green and purple cabbages growing in the fields. How she manages to combine her love of beauty and the backbreaking, heartbreaking toil that comes with life on a small, uncompromising plot of land is the tale.
Ms. Ferber has a lot to say in this novel that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1925. She writes about fertilizer and friendship; poverty and prosperity; asparagus and art; city life and country life; architecture and authenticity; dreams and despair.
And hands. Ms. Ferber is fascinated with hands. She often refers to the rough, gnarled, scarred hands of the farmers and the soft, white, useless hands of the wealthy. (Guess which ones she admires the most.)
I really can't say enough about this book. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, thinking it would be outdated and fussy. It is anything but. I sometimes grow weary of characters in novels, but I never tired of Selina, the people in her life, and Ms. Ferber's look at the American culture of a century ago.
Highly, highly recommended. It will go on my list of favorite books to be reread and enjoyed. I hope it will go on yours.