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Jade Peony [Paperback]

Wayson Choy
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 1 1995

Chinatown, Vancouver, in the late 1930s and ë40s 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, neither entirely Canadian nor Chinese. But with each other's help, they survive hardship and heartbreak with grit and humour.

The Jade Peony was a 2010 Canada Reads Selection.

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From Library Journal

Told through the eyes of three Chinese Canadian siblings, Choy's first novel gives readers a historical glimpse at life in Vancouver's Chinatown during the 1930s and 1940s. Jook-Liang, the only sister in a family of three boys; Jung-Sum, the second adopted son; and Sek-Lung (Sekky), the sickly youngest son are searching for their identities, each presenting a moving account of love and loss that combine to tell the story of their family. Although Choy's work is fictional, it realistically echoes the difficult life struggles of early Chinese Cantonese immigrants as captured in such biographical works as Denise Chong's The Concubine's Children (LJ 11/15/94) and Ben Fong-Torres's The Rice Room (LJ 4/1/94). This book was a number-one best seller in Canada and co-winner of the Trillum Prize for the best book of 1995. Highly recommended for medium and large fiction collections.?Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L.., Garden Grove, Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

This eloquent, confident debut, co-winner of Canada's 1995 Trillium Prize, offers a complex view of family life among Chinese immigrants living in Vancouver as social pressures from within and without have a lasting effect on three children. In the years before WW II, with Japan already invading China, life in Vancouver's Chinatown is hard but seemingly safe for Liang, Jung, and young Sekky. Each of them has a special friend, one who, taking the place of their endlessly working parents, can give them precious memories. For Liang, her attachment to the monkey-faced, crippled Old Wong, veteran of the railroad-building camps in the Rockies, is amply rewarded: He pampers her, encouraging her to tap dance and emulate her idol Shirley Temple. For the adopted Jung, brutal abuse at an early age has made him tough and wary, drawing him to boxing and the incomparable example of Joe Louis, but also to a role model closer to home: supertough Frank Yuen, the best boxer around, who nurtures Jung's talent and also makes him aware of his sexual difference. Finally, Sekky, ailing but alert, finds himself with two powerful guides: his Old China Grandmama, who gives him back his health and whose belief in ghosts keeps her with him after her death; and his beautiful teenage neighbor Meiying, whose love for a Japanese boy in the midst of rising anti-Japanese hysteria moves Sekky to doubt the wisdom of the prevailing hatred. But for each child, the joy of sharing also comes with the pain of leaving, as Old Wong returns to China, Frank Yuen joins the US Marines, and, like Grandmama, Meiying dies, the entrenched racism that forced her from her boyfriend also keeping her from receiving emergency medical care. Childhood lessons are quietly, powerfully drawn here, with Choy's evocation of harsh immigrant reality nothing short of masterful. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Insider's Look into Vancouver's Chinatown April 11 2005
By A Customer
Wayson Choy writes beautifully as he portrays three different voices. Learning about the immigrant experience to the Western world, Chinese culture is extremely apparent in this novel.
Choy writes beautifully and his incorporation of the Chinese language into the dialogue is wonderful. You will see the differences in beliefs between the generations.
Being Chinese, I found a lot of the details familiar as Choy captured small, Chinese nuances. This book captures a range of emotions; I cried within the first section, laughed later on, and felt frustrated with some of the characters and sided with others.
Definitely read this book. It's a wonderful contribution to Asian literature as well as Canadian lit. It's an easy but insightful read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emotional March 4 2013
(...)The Jade Peony is extremely interesting as it also offers beautiful uncanny details of Canadian history and of Vancouver’s Chinese community – end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century.

You learn why they hate Japan so much, how they live together in China towns, how they get to be so connected and strong. Stories from “old China” are particularly fascinating and the author does a great job weaving strong hints of mystery and mystical elements. Even Poh-Poh- the old one, with her hunting for treasures in other people’s garbage bins and her understanding of surreal, her sixth sense when it comes to paranormal, although a harsh strong figure (she imposes that the mother of two of the children be called “Stepmother” by her own children, just because she is the stepmother of the first born son) becomes a dear character. One has to relish this wonderful talent Wayson Choy has, to make you care for his characters, even the ‘evil’ ones.

Day to day Chinese family life at the beginning of the first World War, men who have left China to come work in Canada for money just so they don’t make it back home because of never being able to even get the money for the trip, the ship of bones (dead people who wanted their remains shipped back to China, actually they might not have been allowed burial in Canada), marital abuse, child abuse, child adoption (mainly kids without parents passed on to respectable families and raised by them with no paper trail), ‘paper family’ (those people not related to one another but declared to be so, thus becoming ‘paper cousins’ or ‘paper uncles’), homosexuality, forbidden love, abortion, are main themes that make this book compelling.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I was initially drawn to read The Jade Peony by a review in the National Post about Watson Choy's new novel, All That Matters. I have always been fascinated with literature about Asia and Asian culture (such as Life and Death in Shanghai and Wild Swans ) and novels about Asian-Canadian life, such as Denise Chong's Concubine's Children have held a particular appeal to me. Hence my interest in this book.
I found The Jade Peony enjoyable for two reasons. First, it is a tale of Vancouver's Chinatown during the Second World War. It gave me a glimpse into what life would have been like in this city and in Canada during that time. In particular, the forbidden relationship between a teenage Chinese girl and a Japanese boy really demonstrates the cultural struggle faced by Canadians during the war. The lines between friend and foe are confused by fear of dreadful events far away.
Second, it carefully and successfully expresses the delicate dance that immigrants and their children go through when they move to Canada: how to retain the old way and still embrace the new life. In The Jade Peony, we see these first-generation Chinese-Canadians want to run from the old culture and the older generation vainly grasping to keep them aware. It is hard to decide who should win out, because to change is required for survival but so much is dying out. (I suppose it is what every parent and grandparent goes through as they see their children grow up and away.)
If you have ever lived in or near Vancouver, read this book. If you have ever experienced the duality felt by anyone who immigrates to a new country or who is born of immigrant parents, read this book. If you have experienced or seen neither of these things, read this book to get a good sense of what you have missed.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful .... April 29 2000
THis is an amazing book! MY father grew up in Chinatown (Vancouver) at appox. the same time, it's nice to read and try to understand his early life.
I read the first part in a matter of days. It was so powerful that I cried, in the middle of the waiting room at my doctors office. I still have not read the entire book as I'm scared to experence such powerful emotions, in public. I will finish it though.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good historical drama June 19 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Touching briefly on the legal incursions placed on the Chinese early in the 1900's, the book gives insight to the family dynamics that helped all survive and prosper in later generations.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
overall its great,but it is too slow lol. i hope it would be faster next time. i will resd the book carefully
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book grows on me. Rich! May 11 2003
Like a few other pieces of great literature of the 20th century, this book followed the adventurous trend in that century to dish out more than one first-person narrative sections. As a result, the read is so-so (at least for me) in the beginning and rapidly and immensely grew on me towards the end. THIS BOOK IS A TRILLIUM AWARD WINNER; one can say it is almost an equivalent to the Pulitzer in the United States as in Canada. I wondered "how the heck did this book win such a prestigious award?" when I was reading through the first section of the book; however, the second and the third section honestly kept going at the reader. More information more perspective more everything. Each of the three sections is in a first person narrative of three respective sibling (one sister, two brothers) in one Chinese Canadian family in the early 20th century. Racism, poverty, discrimination linger in the novel, but so do compassion, serenity and persistence.
The reason why I said it grew on me is because as the reader gets to the third section, a conversation between the narrator in the third section and the previous narrators become very interesting. The narrator speaks and hears on the surface, but since the reader has previously gone into the minds of the narrators in the first and second section, the reader can strategically read between the lines. One can almost "get smart" on the narrator narrating, be glad and secretly proud that he knows something the narrator doesn't know. "No no thats not what he means!" "No she realy does not like this despite how she has made you believe" are my responses to the narrator's prose sometimes. The contrast betweeen the different narrators' opinions on the family and humanity in general are also very mesmerizing.
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