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So Big

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  4,383 ratings  ·  405 reviews
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 li ...more
Paperback, 376 pages
Published April 30th 2005 by Kessinger Publishing (first published 1924)
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Pulitzer Winners: Fiction & Novels
39th out of 87 books — 908 voters
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Down on the Farm
23rd out of 97 books — 153 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Amber Anderson
Jan 16, 2012 Amber Anderson rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everybody!
Shelves: novels, favorites
In the three years I've worked in a bookstore, I've had ZERO customers ask for books by Edna Ferber.
Dude. That is going to change.
I am going to start by recommending it to everyone I know (Andrew's mom is reading it next, then Andrew) and then I am going to recommend it to customers.
It's about Selina DeJong, a gambler's daughter-turned schoolteacher in a dutch village just outside of Chicago. It is definetely interesting to think that there was so much farmland in Selina's day, where now it's
Oct 02, 2007 Steve rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Julia
This was a very different, very enjoyable read for me. Thanks for nudging this now forgotten little gem my way, Susan. Your instincts for what I would like were, as always, unerring.

So Big was Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer Prize winning book from 1924. Despite the accolades I didn’t know what to think going into it. For one, I imagined the language would seem a little dainty and old-fashioned. For another, it was mostly set on a vegetable farm – not exactly promising. The first few pages scared me, to
Liza Lawler
This was my second Edna Ferber novel (the first being "Giant"), and it feels like I've discovered a well-kept secret of the literary world.

"So Big" is a great story about a young woman who grows up in various American cities, only to be disillusioned with what life "should be" after getting married to a poor Dutch farmer and toiling in the fields. But it's not just that: It's about believing that life is a grand adventure, "so much velvet." And then going out to find that, to be that person you
I'm going to say right off that I wasn't in the mood for this book. It deserves more than 2* because it's very well-written, and the theme is great - but I expected it to be something different than it was, and couldn't get past my disappointment. My bad. Anyway, the theme is compelling, and I didn't have any difficulty reading through the whole book, so I'd say that is a result of clearly excellent writing. If you're interested in a story about an American woman looking for beauty and worth in ...more
This woman can write herself a book, I tell you what. I'd read Show Boat and Sarasota Trunk by her, and still have Giant yet to go, and you might be able to see a common thread here - they make bang-up movies. This one has been made into a movie a few times as well apparently, but I've never seen them.

So Big, written in 1924, was her first big hit, winning her a Pulitzer Prize. It's the story of Selina DeJong, daughter of a Chicago gambler, who was given the best of education when times were goo
I think cabbages are beautiful, too. This book was frank, charming, and candid in a way that I never expect of older books, and so I am regularly surprised. So Big maintains throughout the important message of finding beauty in the mundane, and cultivating vitality even in the least expected places. It's a book about not taking things for granted, and for striving for one's beliefs, yet it's not schmaltzy. It has some of the same feel as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but over a span of an entire lif ...more
I was really excited to read this Pulitzer, but after the first 50-75 pages I thought I was just going to be working through this book. It seemed much in the mold of prototypical American fiction of that time, with the choppy mid-American prose I don't like and a 'pull yourself up from your bootstraps' story that is a dollar a dozen, especially in that era. The dialogue in particular, used like a blunt instrument, rubbed me the wrong way. I heard a lot of this in Arrowsmith as well (although I l ...more
Great story-telling from a heckuva story-teller, Edna Ferber. The first two-thirds of So Big are five-star material: teenage girl has a setback in life, has to give up fantasies of being the next princess and take a job as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, living in a freezing attic and getting up at 4:30 to start each day. Ferber is terrific, and her protagonist Selina Peake (to become deJong) is easy to sympathize with in her good moments and her bad. I would recommend this novel, from a gr ...more
“Cabbages is beautiful”: A very simple, but poignant statement that recurs throughout this story.

I just found on the internet that this novel, So Big, was inspired by the life of Antje Paarlberg, who lived in a Chicago suburb, a Dutch community of South Holland. Oh, to think there was a “real” Selina makes this story even more beautiful than it already is.

The name of this novel, So Big, is the nickname of Dirk DeJong given by his mother Selina Peake DeJong when he was very young. It was part of
This book is remarkably readable and current for being the Pulitzer Prize winner of 1924. Wonderful writing, full of beauty and insight, with a heroine who faces life with a tremendous amount of strength, integrity, and wisdom. Truly a gem of a book, definitely worth seeking out.

Highly recommended.

Note: I read this book in 2011 and again in 2012. The first time it was a resounding 5 stars for me. The second time I'd probably give it closer to 4. It was still a great book but I saw more of the fl
I thought at first that I wasn't going to like this novel, that it was prim and dated, but it turned out to be fairly satisfying, with some memorable scenes (the picnic auction) and lines ("Cabbages is beautiful"). It also served as a nice dramatization of sociological issues raised by the recent release of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, especially with regard to intergenerational accumulations of wealth.
Oct 21, 2012 Carly rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Carly by: Vicki
Perhaps I shouldn't write reviews immediately after I finish a good, well-written book, since all I can usually think is "Wow! That was a good book!" and what I write tends to simply be variations of that same sentiment.

Oh well.

Wow! That was a good book!

More specifically: An amazing story of a growing America, of beauty and of the value of, well, valuing one's true self.
So wonderful, so honest, so enduring. A classic that brought Edna Ferber the Pulitzer Prize in 1924, each sentence is filled with truth and insight, all cheerfully wrapped up in beautifully descriptive prose. Yet another great story that I just happened to pick up off the shelf.
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.

This is such a hard book to review and rate. I loved the first half that mainly focused on the mother, and her attempts at building a new life and home in the farmlands outside of Chicago. I wanted to qu
I'm fascinated with America in the 20s and 30s, and this novel takes place at the turn of the century. Selena is a strong protagonist, a spirited young woman raised by a professional gambler father and private finishing schools that introduce her to high society kids. When circumstances force Selena to choose between a dull, genteel existence on the east coast and fending for herself, she becomes a school teacher in a Swedish farming community outside Chicago. The culture shock is vivid and tens ...more
I've been on a multi-year campaign to read every book that won a Pulitzer written by a woman. I have to say this is one of those books, and Edna Ferber, is one of those writers who is totally unremembered today b/c she was a woman and not a man. Who do we most associate with "Giant" the sweeping American story of ranchers meet oil meet drama? James Dean who was nominated for an Academy Award, and full disclosure, was on my high school bedroom wall (right, S?) But, what about the pulitzer-winning ...more
Feb 16, 2012 Lizzie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lizzie by: Christmas gift from Meg!
Shelves: 2012, own
I guess I should admit that I was hoping this book would feel ahead of its time. It sounds so much like it will be: a woman becomes independent, successful, and respected (!) in a man's job, isn't super involved in romance, and critiques the lifestyle of capitalists. However, to read it, it falls very much into the historical middle ground: being an enlightened story for its period, but disappearing as such once its audience is changed by real-world progress (many) decades later.

I think about th
Lee Anne
This is the second Edna Ferber book I've read, and I can't wait to read many more. Ferber can craft a phrase so perfect, so original, that I will literally gasp with pleasure at her writing.

This book, the story of Selina DeJong, a gambler's daughter turned country schoolteacher turned farmer's wife in turn of the century Chicago, is full of all the standard fare of "the American Experience," rendered with amazing detail and talent. There is the struggle of the farmer, the growth of cities and th
You could dismiss this as a story that takes place on a farm on the prairie. If you did, you would be overlooking not only the fact that the "prairie" is the outskirts of Chicago that are basically now suburbs, but also that the whole point of the book is how we find art and beauty in life despite and because of where we find ourselves.

Selina knows what's up. She was raised by her imperfect single father to know about theater, gambling, travel, and other life adventures, and to reject the stuff
I really, really enjoyed this well-written, slight novel. My copy had an epilogue that spoke to Ferber's popularity in the 20s and 30s, and how that may have affected her posterity. People dismissed popular and prolific writers then as they do now (think Stephen King or Lionel Shriver). The critics of her day and mine did not include her in epic must-read lists. Her screenplay Giant, James Dean's last movie may be remembered, but her Pulitzer-Prize winning novel sits unnoticed on the shelf, snif ...more
"So Big" follows Selina Peake DeJong whose father was a gambler and was killed by mistake.

Selina was only nineteen at the time in 1888 and she surprises her friends when she decides not to go to Vermont and live with her two aunts. Instead, she shows her independence and determination to succeed on her own. She gets a job as a teacher at the Dutch school in High Plains, ten miles outside of Chicago.

At her first social event, she makes a picnic lunch that will be auctioned off. Men bid on the bas
Jan Underhill
Wow. Bought it because it was a $1.99 Kindle Special, waded in unaware even of the author's reputation and standing, deducing the time period while reading it. Quite a joke on the English major here. The power of the story slowly overcame the slightly dated prose style to leave me stunned to arrive at the end, too soon. Of course I had to read all the background notes and concluded that Ferber deserves far more recognition than she has been allotted historically. Will read "Giant" next!
Interesting how this book compares with another Pulitzer Prize winner I read recently - Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons. Each is a story of the great love a mother has for her son, and each is set in the 'early' years of a fast-growing, developing American city (Chicago in this instance), yet the stories are very different from each other, as are the mothers. The sons do have quite a bit in common, but in general the characters in "So Big" are not only more likable, but more realistic. De ...more
Holly Weiss
Pulitzer Prize for novel 1924. Immensely engrossing story of Selina Peake DeJong as she moves from gambler's daughter to one-room schoolteacher to farmer's wife. Indomitable spirit who never lost her zeal for life and beauty.

Edna Ferber never wanted to be an author. She wrote the book upon which "Show Boat" was based. Two of her novels were made into major motion pictures. She writes of slices of early American life.

I enjoyed Selina's story more than that of her son, Dirk ("So Big"). I found it
Julie McCahill
Pulitzer Prize from 1925 has become one of my favorite books this year! I feel lucky to have read it
This is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a woman and her son in the early 1900's. I didn't have any expectations coming into the book at all, and didn't know what to expect...and I kept waiting for something to happen. It's really a commentary on poverty, social class, and finding beauty in life no matter what your station. I had lots of unresolved questions at the end of the story, but I think that was the point. I don't think the author was interested in the story as much as the lesson. It ...more
Simply stunning in it's clear and clean use of language! Loved every page! Hard to comprehend it was written in 1924 as it is timeless. Thanks Julie for the recommendation. This one will stay with me!
Once I finally found a copy of this book, I LOVED it! Of all the Pulitzer Prize winning fiction I've read thus far about rags to riches stories, or stories about the rise of modern society, this has become one of my favorites. Similar stories, including "Alice Adams," and "The Magnificent Ambersons," follow the difficulty of keeping up with modernity and the dangers of ego and wealth overpowering preservation of self and ethics.

Also, there is lots of talk about farm culture, which is always a pl
Edna Ferber, where have you been all my life? I was surprised at how modern 'So Big' is despite its age. Women are still struggling and sacrificing to balance their wants with society's expectations. People are still choosing money over art. People are still looking down on the poor and downtrodden. Things are so same that it's scary. The ending is what keeps me from giving the book 5 stars. I think it's too ambiguous compared to the rest of the novel. I would have liked to have seen more redemp ...more
Victoria Hess
So Big is the baby name that Salina gave her son Dirk, a name that he rejects at 10, yet is fondly repeated as he becomes a man living the life that Salina's father had chosen for her.

It's the turn of the 20th century. Salina was a gambler's daughter, raised with a veneer of respectability, attending the best school in Chicago and associating with only the best young ladies. When asked, her father is in "investing." Then, he is killed at the card table, and at 19 Salina has to make some hard cho
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Edna Ferber was an American novelist, short story writer and playwright. Her novels were popular in her lifetime and included the Pulitzer Prize-winning So Big (1924), Show Boat (1926; made into the celebrated 1927 musical), Cimarron (1929; made into the 1931 film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture), and Giant (1952; made into the 1956 Hollywood movie).
More about Edna Ferber...
Giant Show Boat Saratoga Trunk Cimarron Ice Palace

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“Any piece of furniture, I don't care how beautiful it is, has got to be lived with, and kicked about, and rubbed down, and mistreated..., and repolished, and knocked around and dusted and sat on or slept in or eaten off of before it develops its real character," Selina said.” 5 likes
“For equipment she had youth, curiosity, a steel strong frame...four hundred ninety-seven dollars; and a gay adventuresome spirit that was never to die, though it led her into curious places and she often found, at the end, only a trackless waste from which she had to retrace her steps, painfully. But always, to her, red and green cabbages were to be jade and Burgundy, crysoprase and porphyry. Life has no weapons against a woman like that.” 5 likes
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