Reviewed by Marianne from "Let's Read"
This book is the reason I fell in love with Pearl S. Buck. It must have been one of the first "adult" books I read and still, I remember it as if it had been yesterday.
Peony is a young servant (almost a slave) in a rich Chinese Jewish household. Her love to the son of the family cannot result in anything as traditional rules don't allow a marriage between them.
While we learn about Chinese traditions, the author also tells us about the life of the Kaifeng Jews of which I had nothing heard before (or after). We can again dive into the sea of knowledge Pearl S. Buck acquired about Chinese life when she spent most of her life there, starting when her missionary parents took her there at a very young age. I have loved reading about China ever since, both historical and present day novels as well as non-fiction. I would love to visit this highly interesting country one day.
However, other than a lot of her other novels, she tries to incorporate the multi-cultural theme into this one, the trial of assimilation. How far does an immigrant want to become like the people in his host nation. A wonderful account of two worlds colliding.
From the back cover:
"In 1850s China, a young girl, Peony, is sold to work as a bondmaid for a rich Jewish family in Kaifeng. Jews have lived for centuries in this region of the country, but by the mid-nineteenth century, assimilation has begun taking its toll on their small enclave. When Peony and the family’s son, David, grow up and fall in love with one another, they face strong opposition from every side. Tradition forbids the marriage, and the family already has a rabbi’s daughter in mind for David.
Long celebrated for its subtle and even-handed treatment of colliding traditions, Peony is an engaging coming-of-age story about love, identity, and the tragedy and beauty found at the intersection of two disparate cultures."
Pearl S. Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".
Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.