Peony: A Novel of China


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As a love story, this novel is passionate, well-written, and complex. I don't know what a romantic would say to the ending, but overall, the book is worth reading just for the characters and the "moral chiaroscuro. View all 5 comments. Jul 15, George rated it it was amazing Shelves: nook-st , pearl-buck. Buck never fail to remind me just what 'reading for pleasure' is really all about.

Buck's wonderful stories. Recommendation: Read PEONY for the sheer joy of great storytelling, and for glimpses of little-known times and cultures. View all 4 comments. Dec 10, Maggie Anton rated it really liked it Shelves: jewish , historical-fiction. This was another difficult book to rate. The writing is exquisite, which is to be expected from a Nobel Prize in literature winner.

The plot is classic "happy" Chinese love story, where girl and boy end up knowing that they love each other but are unable to consummate the relationship [classic "unhappy" Chinese love story is where they die never knowing how the other felt]. But I had a hard time with how Pearl S.

Buck portrayed the 19th-century Jews of Kaifeng and how their community, which had This was another difficult book to rate. Buck portrayed the 19th-century Jews of Kaifeng and how their community, which had existed for years, ultimately disappeared. I could not ignore that Buck was the daughter of Christian Missionaries, especially when she had the Jewish grandson who most resembled his devout great-grandmother saying [about Christians who wanted to use stones from the last synagogue to built their church], "They belonged to our religion, which has come to an end in this land, but their religion sprang from ours.

Let them keep the stones. And surely the author knew that.

Peony: A Novel of China

Also I cannot imagine a Jew, even an assimilated Chinese one, speaking so kindly of Christianity when the story makes it clear that pogroms were happening in the West and it was not safe for Jewish merchants to travel there. Peony 's copyright is dated , which means it was written before the State of Israel was founded, likely during the Holocaust.

Did the author think European Jewry was coming to an end and want to compare this horrific demise to the gentler fate of Chinese Jews? Or perhaps, like most Americans, she had no knowledge of the death camps, and the timing of this novel's publication is a strange, thought-provoking, coincidence. Back to my review. My first reason for not giving 5 stars was that the first third is too long and the last third too short. The scenes in Peking take place too quickly considering their importance in how the book ends.

Also I was annoyed by Buck's portrayal of the dissolute rabbi's son, who seemed completely extraneous to the story. All the Chinese characters were kind and good, except for the Chief Steward, whose behavior was integral to the plot. Even the chief bandit wasn't so bad. View all 3 comments. Buck delves deep into the thoughts and emotions of the title character and those closest to her. Unlike typical novels, the reader is immersed in the flow of hopes and uncertainty of all the principal cast.

Based on history, Buck explores the assimilation of Jewish communities which had existed for hundreds of years in China. Paradoxically the Jews in Europe, persecuted to death, kept to their faith and culture; while Jewish communities in China, tolerated if not welcomed, flourished for hundreds of years but eventually faded.

Peony (novel) - Wikipedia

There remained only the matter of how to get it and keep it. Those around her are blessed by the role she fashions, not following the accepted pattern of either her own people or the semi-assimilated Jews.

You cannot be happy until you understand that life is sad. Expecting nothing, I am glad for anything. It consumes life. I thought it was too much of a love story and lost it's way by losing the Lost Tribe. The beautiful bondwoman Peony is in love with the handsome David who is love with an even-more-beautiful Chinese girl who he has seen once Keuilan. Due to her low station in life, Peony will never be able to marry David.

Meanwhile David's mother is scheming to marry him to the also beautiful-but-more-of-a-sister Leah so that two families of Jews are united and the shrinking gene pool of the small Jewish commun I thought it was too much of a love story and lost it's way by losing the Lost Tribe. Meanwhile David's mother is scheming to marry him to the also beautiful-but-more-of-a-sister Leah so that two families of Jews are united and the shrinking gene pool of the small Jewish community is sustained for at least another generation.

Peony steers David towards the even-m0re-beautiful Keuilan as she feels she has a better chance of staying in the same house as her beloved owner. The manoeuvring takes up the first half of the book before tragedy, then a marriage occurs. As she ages, Peony becomes even more beautiful than the once even-more-beeautiful Keuilan and is the rock in the house as she runs the household, is wise, faithful and devoted.

The best part of the book in with the Rabbi, his anguish of a declining community, lack of a successor and his debate with the even-more-beautiful Chinese girl's father on what is the Jewish God. View 1 comment.

Peony: A Novel of China

Feb 19, Poiema rated it it was amazing Shelves: jewish-interest. I can still remember much about that reading, though so distant-- and the fact that I do remember bears witness to the author's ability to deeply imprint the psyche. Peony is also a memorable read, though entirely different from the Good Earth. Set in the s, it is titled after a Chinese servant girl named Peony. She serves a wealthy Jewish-Chinese family and witnesses the Jewish culture in the last throes of being assimilated into the Chinese culture. The Jewish matriarch of the house, Peony's mistress, makes a desperate attempt to keep the Jewish tradition alive through her son.

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The son is under a great deal of tension as he must make a choice whether to give his life as a rabbi, or follow his Father who is half Chinese into a lucrative life of business. I had never realized that there was a Jewish colony in China that survived for many centuries until they fully intermarried with the Chinese to the point where they ceased to be a distinct people.

There was an interesting afterward at the back of the book chronicling the history of this group. The Chinese were kind to their Jewish refugees; they were allowed to build a synagogue, to conduct business, and to take full part in the community. The Jewish matriarch of the story noted wryly that, in fact, the Jewish people had been "killed by kindness. There was a very sad moment in the book that became the tipping point for the young man who was being torn by having to choose between the 2 cultures.

At this point, a prominent Chinese businessman asked if he could have a tour of the synagogue, which the boy willingly obliged.

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The businessman was thoroughly impressed by the wisdom of the writings within and marveled that much of it intersected with the wisdom he had acquired via Confucius. At this moment, there was common ground an opportunity to share faith and mutual understanding. The spark was quickly extinguished when the elderly rabbi vehemently expelled the man, ironically proclaiming him a "foreigner. The well drawn characters in this book each have their own perspective and create a finely crafted story not to be missed.

Sep 25, Daniel rated it liked it. Peony is an interesting look at the death of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, though in many ways, it is a case-study for what could happen to any Jewish community that becomes assimilated. Buck 's writing is excellent, and the storytelling is engaging. I had some issues with the story, since I do not agree with intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, or with the casual attitude taken by some of the characters when simply tossing aside Jewish rituals and traditions, nor with the Peony is an interesting look at the death of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, though in many ways, it is a case-study for what could happen to any Jewish community that becomes assimilated.

I had some issues with the story, since I do not agree with intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, or with the casual attitude taken by some of the characters when simply tossing aside Jewish rituals and traditions, nor with the over-the-top-bordering-on-crazyness characterization of those few Jews in the community who did still hold on to the Jewish ways, and these are all too prevalent in the narrative.

I'm still not sure to what extent was the author sympathizing with these issues, and I guess that's where my biggest discomfort lies.


  • ‘Peony’ offers rare glimpse into world of Chinese Jews.
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Peony is merely a vehicle for the reader to witness the decline and eventual dissolution of the Jewish community living in this province, a dissapereance that comes about by assimilation and intermarriage into the greater Chinese culture. This is, sadly, a theme too relevant to our times, when more Jews have been lost to these two forces than to the Holocaust. The ending is imminent, but it doesn't have to be so for us as well. I guess in the end I am just tired of stories where the Jewish characters are not observant and sometimes even ridicule their legacy.

Where are the stories of Jews who do observe, who struggle to keep the Law, and who manage to still live in the modern world as well? May 06, Miriam rated it really liked it.


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  5. I picked up this book since I knew the quality of Buck's writing, and was in the mood for another novel about China. Much to my surprise, when I opened the book, I found a story about Jewish people living amongst the Chinese in the late 19th century, whose people had lived for generations in Kaifeng a true, yet little-known tidbit of Chinese history.

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