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The Jade Peony (1995)

by Wayson Choy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6632335,753 (3.54)115
Chinatown, Vancouver, in the late 1930s and ?40s provides the setting for this poignant first novel, told through the vivid and intense reminiscences of the three younger children of an immigrant family. They each experience a very different childhood, depending on age and sex, as they encounter the complexities of birth and death, love and hate, kinship and otherness. Mingling with the realities of Canada and the horror of war are the magic, ghosts, paper uncles and family secrets of Poh-Poh, or Grandmother, who is the heart and pillar of the family. Wayson Choy's Chinatown is a community of unforgettable individuals who are ?neither this nor that, OCO neither entirely Canadian nor Chinese. But with each other's help, they survive hardship and heartbreak with grit and humour."… (more)
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» See also 115 mentions

English (21)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (23)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
I'm still processing this book. There were some amazing and very interesting points of it. Particularly considering I live beside the city it's set in. ;)

I will say that I loved the characters Liang, Poh Poh, and Stepmother. I wish that I could sit down and drink tea and exchange stories with them for hours. Is it horribly sexist that I really only liked the female characters? Yeah, probably. LOL. ( )
  beentsy | Aug 12, 2023 |
The Jade Peony, Wayson Choy's first novel and a RUSA Notable Book, is a genre-bending, memoirlike collection of stories about a family in Vancouver's Chinatown before and during World War II. Three siblings tell the stories of their very different childhoods in a world defined by change, each in their own way wresting autonomy from the strictures of history, family, and poverty. Sister Jook-Liang aspires to be Shirley Temple; adopted Second Brother Jung-Sum, who struggles with his sexuality, finds his way through boxing. Third Brother Sekky, who never feels comfortable with the multitude of Chinese dialects swirling around him, becomes obsessed with war games, and learns a devastating lesson about what war really means when his 17-year-old babysitter dates a Japanese man, with terrible consequences.

One of Choy's most compelling subjects is the fluidity of the extended family. The shadowy woman everyone calls Stepmother is a house servant and concubine who moves into the role of mother, giving birth to two of the siblings but never quite achieving full status. Many chapters focus on the powerful effects friends and neighbors have on the family and the importance of their names and titles.

Choy's evocations of life in Depression-era and wartime Vancouver are especially memorable: the bewildered air of Little Tokyo during the first Christmas after Pearl Harbor, a burned-down church that Sekky and his grandmother pick through for bits of the stained-glass windows--a metaphor for the family's task of sorting out what to keep and what to abandon as it moves into the future. Like the jade peony of the title, Choy's storytelling is at once delicate, powerful, and lovely.
  Centre_A | Nov 27, 2020 |
This is a story of a multi-generational Chinese family, their friends and neighbours before and during WWII in Vancouver. The three main stories are told by three of the four children: Jook Ling, Jung-Sum and Sek Lung.
This is the immigrant story of the hardships that Chinese labourers faced when they first came to Canada to work on the railroads or in labour camps. The inability to settle in the new country and wishing to return to China is present except for the children. It is interesting to witness the treatment of Japanese in Vancouver once Pearl Harbour is attacked. The grandmother, Poh Poh has a very strong influence on the family and represents the past and the culture of this community.
It’s a good story. ( )
  MaggieFlo | Aug 16, 2019 |
I wanted to like this novel. I wanted to learn about another time and culture. I struggled so much to get into in and just when I finally started getting attached to a character, the point of view would change to another character and I'd feel as if I were starting over. Possibly just the wrong book at the wrong time... ( )
  LivingReflections | Dec 2, 2018 |
Three children of immigrant Chinese parents each tell a story from their childhood in Vancouver's Chinatown between 1933 and 1941. We begin with Jook-Liang, the only daughter, as she meets for the first time the ancient Wong-Suk known by everyone as "The Monkey Man". Despite the fact that most people find him ugly and even frightening in appearance, Liang is immediately drawn to him, and he becomes, all too briefly, her best friend and companion. The second section is in the voice of Liang's older, adopted brother, Jung-Sum, who tells us how he came to be part of the family, and how he became the protege of an older youth with a tough reputation who eventually decided to go to Seattle to join the U. S. Marine Corps. Finally, we hear from the Little Brother, Sek-Lung, his Grandmother's special project, who has suffered from birth with lung ailments that require extraordinary attention and keep him from starting school at the normal time. Each of these children develops a unique personal relationship that supports them, but ultimately teaches them about loss and letting go. Over all the stories hangs the cloud of world events--the war between China and Japan, and the impending calamities of WWII; the ongoing conflict between Chinese and Japanese immigrant communities; and the eternal struggle of the immigrants and their children to find a balance between Old Ways and Canadian (American) ways. Although I found the ending a bit abrupt, and there isn't an over-arching story line connecting the three sections, I was very impressed with the novel, and would recommend it. Parts of this story are similar to the later novel, [Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet], set down the coast in the American Northwest--the Chinese/Japanese racial and cultural divide, the Romeo and Juliet motif, the assimilation vs. tradition themes. I'm rating [The Jade Peony] slightly higher than Ford's novel, however, as it avoided any glaring anachronisms and kept me more fully engaged with the characters.

The strength of Choy's work is excellently anticipated by the book's epigraph:

T'ong Yahn Gaai was what
we once called
where we lived: "China-People Street".
Later, we mimicked
Demon talk
and wrote down only
Wah Fauh--"China-Town."
The difference
is obvious: the people
disappeared.
---Wing Tek Lum, "Translations" ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Jul 16, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wayson Choyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hoekmeijer, NicoletteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Tohng Yahn Gaai was what we once called where we lived: "China-People-Street". Later, we mimicked Demon talk and wrote down only Wah Fauh - "China-Town". The difference is obvious: the people disappeared.
- Wing Tek Lum, "Translations"
Dedication
To my aunts, Freda and  Mary

and in memory of Toy and Lilly Choy.
First words
The old man first visited our house when I was five, in 1933.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Chinatown, Vancouver, in the late 1930s and ?40s provides the setting for this poignant first novel, told through the vivid and intense reminiscences of the three younger children of an immigrant family. They each experience a very different childhood, depending on age and sex, as they encounter the complexities of birth and death, love and hate, kinship and otherness. Mingling with the realities of Canada and the horror of war are the magic, ghosts, paper uncles and family secrets of Poh-Poh, or Grandmother, who is the heart and pillar of the family. Wayson Choy's Chinatown is a community of unforgettable individuals who are ?neither this nor that, OCO neither entirely Canadian nor Chinese. But with each other's help, they survive hardship and heartbreak with grit and humour."

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