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Peony by Pearl S. Buck

Peony (original 1948; edition 1948)

by Pearl S. Buck

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6041616,187 (3.98)37
Authors:Pearl S. Buck
Info:Moyer Bell (2004), Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:2001, fiction, china, 1800s, asia, historical

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Peony by Pearl S. Buck (1948)



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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Peony, a classic choice of our book club, and the first Pearl S. Buck I've read...how have I waited this long?? She was a prolific author and also a very good one. A child of American missionaries to China, she was raised speaking Chinese and understood the culture as few Americans could. Peony was published in 1948.

This story reveals a bit of history I had never been exposed to, but which has been thoroughly documented. Ms. Buck tells the story of a culture within a culture as she describes how a group of Jews who escape to China to avoid persecution manage to so completely assimilate into the Chinese culture that they are completely absorbed in just a few generations.

The child Peony is bought as a bond servant at age 8 around 1850, and is raised in a wealthy Jewish family along with their only son David. As young adults they feel a strong attraction, but their status differences are too great a barrier. Peony remains an integral part of the family, working quietly behind the scenes to make David as successful a family man and business man that he can possibly be. ( )
  vcg610 | Nov 27, 2016 |
Review: Peony by Pearl S. Buck.

I thought the book was written well and her characters were well developed. I like the way Pearl Buck creates her stories about China. She does a great job of combining the Chinese with another culture and makes it interesting and understanding to the point of sharing all culture traditions. In this book Pearl Buck research provides accurate and extremely interesting information, some based on truth of Jews in China. The message in this story involves how the Jews were swiftly intergrading into Chinese society and culture, and losing their Jewish identity.

The setting for this story is in the city K’aifeng, in the district of Hinon, sometime around 1850. This place and time was historically a center for Chinese Jews. However, Pearl Buck created within the story a prominent Jewish family and how a family of this status can be well-known and brought through many tribulations and sorrow diminishing their cultures and traditions no matter how hard they clung to their rites to be a Jew living among the Chinese.

Peony was an intriguing, sad and creative story built on many true facts. The novel follows Peony, a Chinese bondmaid of the prominent Jewish family of Ezra Ben Israel, and shows through her eyes how the Jewish community was regarded in K’aifeng at the time when most of the Jews had come to think of themselves as Chinese. Peony was loved by this Jewish family like a daughter. She grew up with their only son David, they played together as children, but now as she got older Peony took the place of David’s servant and during his education they learned together by great tutors. They were as close as sister and brother and Peony never let known her true love she carried for David because she knew Madame Ezra would never allow her to marry David, and that Jews, unlike Chinese, do not take concubines. Peony just settled on being close to David and did everything she could to make sure he was happy.

As the story unfold there is tragedy, sorrow, deaths, misunderstandings, love, and Peony is embedded deeply among all the turmoil. Peony is a loving quiet person who captures the heart of most of Pearl Buck’s audience. I loved the novel and everything it stood for but I wished the ending would have been created differently….

( )
  Juan-banjo | May 31, 2016 |
In a little blurb at the beginning of the novel, Buck explains that periodically throughout history, groups of Jews have immigrated to China, where they were eventually integrated into society to the point where they became more Chinese than Jewish. This is the story of one of these families, seen through the eyes of one of their servants, Peony. The mother is dead-set on preserving all of the Jewish traditions and on returning to the Holy Land some day. The father has adapted to more Chinese customs that she has. Their son, David, is caught between the two, and must decide which path he will follow. The novel is also about a love story, as David must decide whether he loves Leah, the daughter of the Rabbi who his mother wants him to marry, Kueilan, the daughter of his father’s Chinese business partner, or Peony, who has been his companion since childhood, but who is far below his station.

Buck does a magnificent job of portraying Asian culture, as usual. Most of the stories I’ve read about immigration and the immigrants’ struggles to integrate into their new culture are about people who immigrate to America, so I found it really interesting to see an example from another culture. I also love Buck’s subtle (or maybe not so subtle) commentaries on religion and society. When the Chinese see the Jewish temple and all the sayings that are carved in it, they realize that the Jews believe a lot of the same things that they do. They see no difference, and thus, accept the Jews into their culture. The strictly observant Jews, like the Rabbi and David’s mother, insist on arguing that they are better than the Chinese because their god is the one true god and that they are his chosen people. David comes to realize that these feelings of superiority are the reason why the Jews have been persecuted throughout history and that the Buddhist and Confucian teachings really are pretty similar to those of Judaism. I think Buck makes a very good argument for the idea that despite all the different races, religions, and cultures of humans, we really have more similarities to each other than differences. If we could just realize this and get along, the world would be a better place for everyone. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
A gentle, slow, rich story about a Jewish household that lives in China during the mid-nineteenth century. It is told from the viewpoint of a chinese bondmaid in the house, who was bought as a child to be companion to the merchant's only son, David. She grows up on very close terms with David, but when they become adults the dynamics change. Peony the bondmaid loves David, but it is beyond her status to ever marry him. His religion forbids him to keep her as a concubine, which the Chinese people would easily accept. Instead she remains in his house faithfully serving him, subtly manipulating events and insinuating herself into schemes on whom David will marry- the pretty daughter of another merchant who would solidify a business partnership? or the beautiful strong Jewish daughter of the rabbi, whom his mother desires for him? I have never read anything about the assimilation of Jewish people into China before, so the full breadth of this story was very interesting. It's about much more than just the love story and the self-sacrifice that is Peony's life. It's about the meeting of two cultures, each with their pride and faithfulness, their laws and structure, their tolerance or prejudiced ideas. Older generations sought to hold onto their religious identity and keep their children from intermarriage, but slowly this dissolves through the years. David in particular has an awakening when he realizes he will not follow his mother's ideal path for him, nor exactly his father's, but must choose his own way.

All in all a very engaging read. It definitely encourages me to read more Pearl S. Buck- especially as this book is said to be not quite her best!

from the Dogear Diary ( )
  jeane | Jul 11, 2015 |
An insightful look at the tension between assimilation and maintaining one's heritage in a Jewish family that has lived for 4 generations in China. Ironically, told with compassion and understanding by the daughter of Christian missionaries. Pearl Buck tells this story through the eyes of Peony, a slave purchased for the family's son, David, at a young age so that he would have a playmate. They have grown up as good friends but it is now time for David to be married. Should he marry someone Jewish to keep the family line "pure"? Or should he marry whomever he likes? David himself does not know. Peony for the first time finds herself unable to help him but she must act for her own self-interest. The result is a beautiful narrative based on the true history of the Chinese welcoming the Jews into their cities. Despite finding refuge in China, the families are torn between intermarriage and cultural purity. Should we all just get along as one human race and each risk the loss of our special heritage? Are the 2 ideals compatible? A lovely, lovely novel. ( )
  krazy4katz | Nov 19, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pearl S. Buckprimary authorall editionscalculated
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:07 -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)

(summary from another edition)

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