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Peony by Pearl S. Buck
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Peony (1948)

by Pearl S. Buck

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Six-word review: Love and duty bind Chinese slave.

Extended review:

In a large city in mid-nineteenth-century China, a woman named Peony is bound in service to an old, established Jewish family. Her pivotal role in the life of the family bridges two ancient traditions, each with its observances and taboos. Peony's devoted service to the old master, Ezra, and his controlling wife masks a consuming but forbidden love for their son David, once her childhood companion, now destined for a place in the religious community.

This richly atmospheric novel delivers fascinating details of life in the China of about 1850 and especially in a Jewish household within that setting. The synagogue in the city was by then already some 800 or 900 years old. As depicted, Jews who had migrated to China by way of the Silk Road centuries earlier remained aloof in the wider community but were cheerfully tolerated by their liberal-minded Chinese hosts, who knew nothing of European antisemitism. A comfortable symbiosis prevailed between the merchant classes of both cultures, and intermarriage among their offspring increasingly blurred the differences.

For Peony, however, the barrier is insurmountable: it is not because she's Chinese but because she is a bondswoman, inescapably restrained by her inferior social status and her utter dependence on her owners, that there is no hope of a union between her and David. So her love must find other expressions. To serve him, she becomes a schemer and manipulator of events and circumstances. In Peony we see a complex characterization fraught with secrets, conflicts, and hidden motivations, at once rigid and yielding, resourceful, clever, loyal, and yet hopelessly yearning. Among all the principals we see above all else a depiction of love in its many forms, bringer of pain and grief as much as of joy.

From the Pulitzer- and Nobel-winning author of The Good Earth, Peony the novel, deep, moving, satisfying, poignant, wise, and culturally rich, is certain to be one of my highest-rated reading experiences of the year.

(Kindle edition) ( )
2 vote Meredy | Aug 30, 2014 |
Peony is an indentured servant for a family of Chinese Jews in 19th Century Kaifeng, China. Wendy Abraham's afterword offers context for this fascinating population which came to China perhaps as early as the 1100s. Like most of Buck's novels, "Peony" is delicately and sensitively written, though it will doubtless seem dated to modern readers, and it does not have the power that her "Good Earth" trilogy has.

Read the rest at: http://thegrimreader.blogspot.com/2014/01/i-read-some-books-about-incarceration.... ( )
  nohrt4me2 | Jan 18, 2014 |
Peony is about the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng, a tapestry of history and fiction. It is a very interesting and timely book to read around Passover when stories are told of being in exile. Buck captured issues of being different versus assimilation along with universal struggles of faith and wove all this into the Chinese culture in the early 1800's. As I read I had vivid pictures in my mind of my own visit to China and various Chinese theatrical performances I have seen. I learned a lot from this novel about the history of Jews in China and their role in commerce. In short this is a masterful story, simple and profound,
about family ties and love and although written in the late 40's, still timely. Cyrille Cobe - May 2010
  bilib | May 18, 2013 |
00002124
  cavlibrary | Apr 19, 2013 |
This was my first (and still only) Pearl S. Buck book and I cherish it. While the summery makes it sound like a romance it is more about the historical background of the Jews escaping to live in China and how the two clash culturally. Very interesting, though slow at first. Once I made it past the beginning the two main ideals that make up this book became fascinating to me and I could not put it down. This is the most quotable book I have in my repertoire when it comes to religion, spirituality and human nature. Here are two of my favorites: 1) “If there is a God and He is what you say, He will be too sensible to ask me to believe in what I have not seen.” 2) "All business should have its human connections. The more human every relationship could be, the more sound it was, the more lasting." ( )
  MooqieLove | Jun 14, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pearl S. Buckprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lennart, ClareTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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At various times in history colonies of Jews have gone to China and lived there. The city of K'aifeng, in the province of Honan, was a center for them. In China they have never been persecuted, and if they have suffered hardships, these were only the hardships of life in the community where they were.

In its basis, therefore, this novel may be said to be historically true, although the characters, with unimportant exceptions, are the creatures of my imagination. The story takes place at the period, about a century ago, when the Chinese had accepted the Jews, and when, indeed, most Jews had come to think of themselves as Chinese. Today even the memory of their origin is gone. They are Chinese.
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It was spring in the city of K'aifeng, a late spring in the northern Chinese province of Honan.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0819705926, Hardcover)

Young Peony is sold into a rich Chinese household as a bondmaid -- an awkward role in which she is more a servant, but less a daughter. As she grows into a lovely, provocative young woman, Peony falls in love with the family's only son. However, tradition forbids them to wed. How she resolves her love for him and her devotion to her adoptive family unfolds in this profound tale, based on true events in China over a century ago.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:23 -0400)

Young Peony is sold into a rich Chinese household as a bondmaid -- an awkward role in which she is more a servant, but less a daughter. As she grows into a lovely, provocative young woman, Peony falls in love with the family's only son. However, tradition forbids them to wed. How she resolves her love for him and her devotion to her adoptive family unfolds in this profound tale, based on true events in China over a century ago.… (more)

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