The Jade Peony

This book took a while to get going. Perhaps it was because I started off with a little wariness – I’m not all that fond of reading Chinese immigrant stories, partly because they’ve always seemed…  perhaps a little too similar to each other. Perhaps because they also hit close to home, but in a different sort of way (my great grandparents moved from China to Singapore – essentially moving from one Chinese-dominated country to another). It’s hard to explain, but it’s always made me hesitant.

Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony is set in Vancouver’s Chinatown in the 1930s and 40s and opens with a story of  Jook-Liang, the ‘useless girl’ who dreams of being Shirley Temple and befriends old Wong Suk (Monkey). This story tripped me up a little, it was kind of sweet but I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind to read it (still wary, still hesitant – the grumpy grandmother stuck in her old ways especially called for a big fat ‘aiyah‘*). I have to admit that I almost put this book away at this point. But I’m glad I stuck with it, as in the end, the book was quite worthwhile.

The second section was second brother Jung-Sum’s story. He was adopted by the family at age four and struggles with his new life and the spectres of his past. The third story is told through the eyes of Sekky, the youngest, during the Second World War and the tensions between the Japanese and Chinese immigrants in Vancouver. This third story has the most action – the other parts seem more like reminiscences, rather episodic. But despite the lack of action, the reader feels drawn into the lives of these three children, perhaps on the strength of their characters. However, the three stories seem quite separate from each other, and the three main characters seldom feature in each others’ stories, which is quite curious.

* Which can be translated into somewhat of a sigh or an ‘argh’.


Title: The Jade Peony
Author: Wayson Choy
Year: 1995
Acquired from: The Library

Wayson Choy’s works
Novels

* The Jade Peony — 1995
* All That Matters — 2004

Memoirs

* Paper Shadows: A Chinatown Childhood — 1999
* Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying — 2009

 

I read this book for the Global Reading Challenge

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4 thoughts on “The Jade Peony

  1. I understand the kind of hesitation you’ve described: I experience that with certain themes as well. The first story in TJP is one of my favourites though: I loved the relationship between the young girl and Wong Suk, her fierceness and her vulnerability, and the obvious affection across those years between them. And I love the story of the turtle, which was the next one, I think. After that it gets fuzzy: time for a re-read, I guess!

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