May 21, 2015

Peony

by Pearl S. Buck

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 into service 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! I used to have The Good Earth on my shelf, can't find it now. I'm afraid I tried it several times when I was younger and got nowhere. I intend to find another copy and attempt it again. And others.

Rating: 4/5     312 pages, 1948

more opinions:
Book Nook Club
A Striped Armchair
Becky's Book Reviews

2 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I read The Good Earth years and years ago and loved it so this intrigues me.

Stefanie said...

This sounds pretty good! I've been meaning to read Buck for years but still haven't managed it. One of these days!