Monday, April 23, 2012

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

The Jade PeonyThe Jade Peony by Wayson Choy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent, rich story of life in Chinatown in Vancouver in the 1930's.

The author does a fantastic job of painting his life as a child of immigrants, and the struggle to balance the old and the new ways. The character of his grandmother is amazing, in her 80's and born in 1850 she is such a wealth of knowledge and really represents the ways of old China.

Many times with this book I found myself talking to family and friends about it, relaying how the Chinese all believed in ghosts, how they lived in a shack and you could see daylight through the walls, how every white person in their life was referred to as "White Demon".

Later in the book the author also illustrates very well the us vs them mentality of war. People who live across the street are suddenly violent enemies. At one point a lynch mob of sorts goes through Japan-town and breaks things, beats people up, and the small child narrator wonders why they didn't go help. But the older Chinese remember a time 30 years or so before when a similar mob went through Chinatown and know this is not the answer. This book is especially relevant now in our global village where lines are blurred and we are all on the same side.

The book was well put together and made me think. The only criticism I have is that it ended too suddenly and I did not feel the significance of the title was fully explored. Also as mentioned in the questions at the back of the book, not much happens in the story.

But I really feel these are minor complaints compared to the rich tapestry of life presented in the story. 4.5 stars, a must read for every Canadian.

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