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peony

Young Peony is sold into a rich Chinese household as a bondmaid -- an awkward role in which she is more than a servant, but less than a daughter. As she grows into a lovely, provocative young woman, Peony falls in love with the family's only son. However, tradition forbids them to wed. How she resolves her love for him and her devotion to her adoptive family unfolds in thiYoung Peony is sold into a rich Chinese household as a bondmaid -- an awkward role in which she is more than a servant, but less than a daughter. As she grows into a lovely, provocative young woman, Peony falls in love with the family's only son. However, tradition forbids them to wed. How she resolves her love for him and her devotion to her adoptive family unfolds in this profound tale, based on true events in China over a century ago.Contains a map detailing Jewish migration and a timeline. This is the story of a culture within a culture. The conflict between the two cultures comes out as a love affair develops between two young people. Peony is classic Pearl Buck showing not only the conflict of the new and old ways but the difficulty in a society where there was no discrimination against the Jews....

Title : Peony
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781559213387
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 339 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Peony Reviews

  • Alice Poon
    2019-05-30 03:36

    I must say this historical novel is quite different from anything I’ve read thus far in the genre. It is a story of impossible love between a Chinese bondmaid and a young Jewish man in the Jewish community of 19th century China. The crux of the story lies in the spiritual or ideological clash between the Chinese and the Jewish culture, and this clash is seen as a subtle force that simmers beneath the surface of differing customs and traditions, until it bubbles up and creates the ultimate barrier that keeps the lovers apart.Peony is a Chinese bondmaid sold in childhood to the Ezra household to serve their only son David. They grow up together and develop a mutual bond. Within the Ezra household, the husband is easy going and loves the Chinese way of life and is grateful for the kindness shown to him and his by the Chinese, while the wife is a strong-willed woman whose sole aim in life is to uphold the Jewish Law and traditions. But Peony is witty enough to understand there’s no future for her love for David. In order to be able to stay near him, she devises a scheme for David to wed a beautiful Chinese woman, even knowing that her subterfuge would derail Madam Ezra’s plan to get David married to a traditional Jewish girl. From here the plot thickens until the climax is reached, when an incident forces David, now married with children but still struggling with restlessness, to reveal his true feelings for Peony, which ironically leaves her no choice but to seek refuge in a nunnery.Buck writes with a simple and candid style, but what really stands out is the intensity and depth of emotions she succeeds in painting – it literally holds the readers’ breath! I think she writes with great sympathy about the dilemma of the diminishing Jewish community in China who tried futilely to resist assimilation into their foreign host country who showed them kindness and tolerance while the rest of the world continued to persecute them.It was inevitable, when people were kind and just to one another, that the walls between them fell and they became one humanity.I’m giving this novel 4.3 stars.

  • rivka
    2019-06-19 22:30

    There are two main ways Jews have disappeared from a given place: hatred and kindness. Hatred causes holocausts and inquisitions; kindness makes assimilation attractive.There are many many books about the former. This is one of the few good books I have read about the latter.

  • Greta
    2019-06-06 06:52

    Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, gentle jewish boy, David, who lived in a beautiful house with a beautiful garden in the beautiful city Kaifeng in China. His gentle father Ezra, a successful trader, was married with the most beautiful and rich jewish woman of Kaifeng. His beautiful, gentle Chinese bondmaid, Peony, loves him dearly and although they can't be together, she gently and tenderly devotes her life and beauty to him. His scheming mother wants David to marry the tender, beautiful, devout daughter of the Rabbi, Leah. But David has set his eyes on the even more beautiful Kueilan, the daughter of Kung Chen, a gentle, rich Chinese trader, partner and friend of his father. Which beautiful girl is David going to choose ? As he's jewish, he can't have them all. If only he could reject his jewishness, he could have a beautiful concubine. But the devout Leah, his mother and the Rabbi won't allow this. His mother asks the Rabbi to help David, but the Rabbi is a blind man and doesn't understand David's confusion amid all these gentle, beautiful women. So the Rabbi loses his patience and his mind and David is lost again. Why can't they simply assimilate with the gentle Chinese people of Kaifeng, so they would all live happily ever after ?

  • Chrissie
    2019-06-11 05:30

    ETA: I want my reviews to be clear and easily understandable. For those of you who only see the positive in what I have stated and thus do not understand why I gave the book three rather than four or five stars, please read messages thirteen and fourteen below.************* Look at the cover I have chosen. It was the cover of the 1948 edition, the very first edition of the book. I think it is sweet. That is Peony on the cover. She is the Chinese bondmaid about which the book is written. A bondmaid is a woman bound to service without wages. She was bought by a Jewish merchant family belonging to the Zhao clan living in Kaifeng in the Henan province of China in the early 1800s. The chronological timing of the book is fuzzy. How she appears on the cover is the exact image of the girl drawn in the story--a sweet round face, black hair, fringed and drawn into a bun over one ear.The tale is first and foremost a love story, between two of the book’s characters and between Pearl S. Buck and the Chinese people. It is also a book about the community of Jews that for centuries had lived in Kaifeng, China. It is a book about Jewish assimilation. Pogroms elsewhere killed the Jews, but in China the Jews were treated with such equanimity, tolerance and kindness that they instead came to be absorbed into Chinese society. The story has direct historical background. An informative afterword concerning the history of Jews in China, written by Wendy R. Abraham, gives a perfect concluding touch to the audiobook published by Oasis Audio. The book is a bit of a fairy tale, but a tale that could indeed have taken place. It starts off slowly, gathers momentum, events multiply and the ending makes perfect sense. Pearl S. Buck’s writing has a unique style--a quietness, a fluidity that calms the melodrama of the events that occur. The two counter each other well. I cannot describe the writing in any other way.I do recommend the book. It grows in strength as it proceeds. There is a river trip on a junk to Peking and Peking itself is delightfully described. Eventually, with a little patience, the ways and customs of Chinese life come to be detailed. Even if I never became attached to any of the characters, each one does feel true to themselves. Peony was too angelic for me!The audiobook I listened to was narrated very well by Kirsten Potter. The melody of her voice fits Buck’s prose style. The speed is perfect and it is easy to follow. The narration I have given four stars.Personally, I prefer this over the other books I have read by Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973). The topic is interesting, i.e. Jews in China, and she cleverly weaves facts into a fictional story. The author, the daughter of Protestant missionaries, spent much of her life before 1934 in China; she writes about what she knows and about people she came to love. This is evident in the writing.

  • Adam
    2019-05-28 01:32

    Years ago, I discovered that there was a Kosher Chinese restaurant in Hendon, a suburb in North West London. It was, and still is, called ‘Kaifeng’. It is named after the city of the same name in mainland China, which had a Jewish community dating back to 1100 AD if not before. So, when I discovered that there had been a novel written about the Jews of this city, I obtained a copy.The novel, “Peony”, set in the 19th century, is written by Pearl Buck, who lived for many years in China. Peony is a bond servant (in effect a slave) who lives with the Ezra family, a wealthy Jewish trading family in Kaifeng. She has a secret ‘crush’ on David, the son of the family, with whom she has grown up. David’s mother is keen that her son becomes betrothed to Leah, the daughter of Kaifeng’s elderly blind rabbi. Peony encourages David to ‘fall’ for Kueilan, the attractive daughter of a wealthy Chinese business man. David is torn between Leah, whom he respects for her desire to propagate Jewish traditional values, and the sensuous gentile Kueilan. Fate decisively determines that he marries the latter. Kueilan bears him numerous children. The Ezra business prospers. Peony remains content serving David and his family. Everything changes when Peony accompanies David, his wife, and children, on a long trip north to Peking. What happens I will not reveal. But, suffice it to say that what had been a peaceful existence comes to an end. Taken at face value Buck’s novel is a well-written story rich in detail about life in 19th century China. However, its real interest for me is its exploration of assimilation. On the one hand, David’s mother, the rabbi, and Leah wish to preserve their Jewish identity from becoming dissolved and diluted in the sea of the Chinese world that surrounds them. In contrast, David and his father have fewer concerns about this happening.Leah points out to David that without people like his mother and her father, “… our people would long ago have been lost. We would have become as all other people are, without knowledge of the One True God. But they are the faithful, who have kept us a living and separate people.” David replies, “Yet I wonder if it is not they who turn others against us…” I have also often wondered whether this desire by some Jews to consider themselves distinct (i.e as being the the 'Chosen People') from their gentile neighbours might be a factor contributing to the antagonism that some gentiles have towards Jews.David wonders, “Would he keep himself separate, dedicated to a faith that made him solitary among whatever people he lived, or would he pour the stream of his life into the rich ocean of all human life about him?” You will have to read “Peony” to find out.PS: The edition, which I read, includes an interesting historical appendix about the Jews in China.

  • Kressel Housman
    2019-06-26 23:45

    As I've said before, my criterion for rating a psychology book a 5 is if it changes my life positively. This novel solidified for me my criterion for giving a novel a 5: do I shed actual tears for the characters? In this case, the answer is yes, so hence the 5 stars.The book is set in the home of a Jewish merchant family in China in the 1850's. According to the historical afterword in my copy of the book, Jews lived in China as far back as the 1200's, and the 1850's is when they ceased to function as a community. How and why did they disappear? No doubt in the way the novel depicts it: through intermarriage and assimilation.From a Jewish perspective, this book is an absolute tragedy. The matron of the house, Madame Ezra, wants nothing more than to see her son David marry a Jewish woman and carry on the Jewish tradition, even in China. But Peony, the Chinese bondmaid (a house slave, essentially), has ideas of her own about David's future and engages in some pretty elaborate manipulations to get her way. It's incredibly ironic; everyone fears Madame Ezra, but the sly little slave girl ultimately wields more power. An apropos (though admittedly borrowed) term to describe this book is a "moral chiaroscuro." The characters are not divided into black and white, good and evil. Madame Ezra has an imperious manner, but she's highly principled and is basically kind. David's struggle with his conscience is very human and very Jewish. And Peony herself, while supremely dishonest, also shows an almost saintly level of kindness, especially at the end. As I said, from a Jewish perspective, this book is 100% tragic. Traditional Jews will be disturbed by it, particularly for its attack on the concept of "chosenness." But it is nonetheless probably an accurate depiction of the fate of the Jews in China, which is something worth learning about. As a historical note, though the book is set in the 1850's, it was written in the late 1940's, i.e. in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust. No doubt that is what motivated Pearl S. Buck to explore the theme of Jewish disappearance.As a love story, this novel is passionate, well-written, and complex. I don't know what a romantic would say to the ending, but overall, the book is worth reading just for the characters and the "moral chiaroscuro."

  • Maggie Anton
    2019-06-18 05:34

    This was another difficult book to rate. The writing is exquisite, which is to be expected from a Nobel Prize in literature winner. The plot is classic "happy" Chinese love story, where girl and boy end up knowing that they love each other but are unable to consummate the relationship [classic "unhappy" Chinese love story is where they die never knowing how the other felt]. But I had a hard time with how Pearl S. Buck portrayed the 19th-century Jews of Kaifeng and how their community, which had existed for 1000 years, ultimately disappeared.I could not ignore that Buck was the daughter of Christian Missionaries, especially when she had the Jewish grandson who most resembled his devout great-grandmother saying [about Christians who wanted to use stones from the last synagogue to built their church], "They belonged to our religion, which has come to an end in this land, but their religion sprang from ours. Let them keep the stones." True Kaifeng's last rabbi died between 1800-1810, and that Jewish community never recovered, but Judaism did not, and has not, come to an end in China. And surely the author knew that. Also I cannot imagine a Jew, even an assimilated Chinese one, speaking so kindly of Christianity when the story makes it clear that pogroms were happening in the West and it was not safe for Jewish merchants to travel there.Peony's copyright is dated 1948, which means it was written before the State of Israel was founded, likely during the Holocaust. Did the author think European Jewry was coming to an end and want to compare this horrific demise to the gentler fate of Chinese Jews? Or perhaps, like most Americans, she had no knowledge of the death camps, and the timing of this novel's publication is a strange, thought-provoking, coincidence.Back to my review. My first reason for not giving 5 stars was that the first third is too long and the last third too short. The scenes in Peking take place too quickly considering their importance in how the book ends. Also I was annoyed by Buck's portrayal of the dissolute rabbi's son, who seemed completely extraneous to the story. All the Chinese characters were kind and good, except for the Chief Steward, whose behavior was integral to the plot. Even the chief bandit wasn't so bad.

  • George
    2019-06-24 23:45

    PLEASURE READING AT ITS BEST."Yet what is right except that which makes happiness and what is wrong except that which makes sorrow?"–page 132The novels of Pearl S. Buck never fail to remind me just what 'reading for pleasure' is really all about. PEONY: A Novel of China—the story of the beautiful Chinese bondservant, raised and indentured, in the household of a noted, China-born, family of European Jews; who witnesses the fascinating closing days of the complete assimilation of the Kaifeng (China) Jewish community/culture—is another sterling example of the warmth, wisdom, and compelling character development of Ms. Buck's wonderful stories. Recommendation: Read PEONY for the sheer joy of great storytelling, and for glimpses of little-known times and cultures. "All sober souls were in bed and asleep, but the young and the old who were lovers of life were making the most of the moon." . . . . "It was the hour to seize joy with both hands."—page 142NOOKbook, 309 pages

  • Calzean
    2019-05-27 00:41

    I thought it was too much of a love story and lost it's way by losing the Lost Tribe.The beautiful bondwoman Peony is in love with the handsome David who is love with an even-more-beautiful Chinese girl (who he has seen once) Keuilan. Due to her low station in life, Peony will never be able to marry David. Meanwhile David's mother is scheming to marry him to the also beautiful-but-more-of-a-sister Leah so that two families of Jews are united and the shrinking gene pool of the small Jewish community is sustained for at least another generation. Peony steers David towards the even-m0re-beautiful Keuilan as she feels she has a better chance of staying in the same house as her beloved owner. The manoeuvring takes up the first half of the book before tragedy, then a marriage occurs. As she ages, Peony becomes even more beautiful than the once even-more-beeautiful Keuilan and is the rock in the house as she runs the household, is wise, faithful and devoted.The best part of the book in with the Rabbi, his anguish of a declining community, lack of a successor and his debate with the even-more-beautiful Chinese girl's father on what is the Jewish God.

  • Daniel
    2019-06-04 04:42

    Peony is an interesting look at the death of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, though in many ways, it is a case-study for what could happen to any Jewish community that becomes assimilated. Pearl S. Buck's writing is excellent, and the storytelling is engaging. I had some issues with the story, since I do not agree with intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, or with the casual attitude taken by some of the characters when simply tossing aside Jewish rituals and traditions, nor with the over-the-top-bordering-on-crazyness characterization of those few Jews in the community who did still hold on to the Jewish ways, and these are all too prevalent in the narrative. I'm still not sure to what extent was the author sympathizing with these issues, and I guess that's where my biggest discomfort lies.Peony is merely a vehicle for the reader to witness the decline and eventual dissolution of the Jewish community living in this province, a dissapereance that comes about by assimilation and intermarriage into the greater Chinese culture. This is, sadly, a theme too relevant to our times, when more Jews have been lost to these two forces than to the Holocaust. The ending is imminent, but it doesn't have to be so for us as well.I guess in the end I am just tired of stories where the Jewish characters are not observant and sometimes even ridicule their legacy. Where are the stories of Jews who do observe, who struggle to keep the Law, and who manage to still live in the modern world as well?

  • Miriam
    2019-06-17 06:39

    I picked up this book since I knew the quality of Buck's writing, and was in the mood for another novel about China. Much to my surprise, when I opened the book, I found a story about Jewish people living amongst the Chinese in the late 19th century, whose people had lived for generations in Kaifeng (a true, yet little-known tidbit of Chinese history). Who knew? This is a good book for those who found Pearl S. Buck to be an enthralling writer in The Good Earth, but who had a hard time liking the characters of that book. This book was a page-turner for me, just as The Good Earth was, but in contrast, all of the main characters in this novel are very likeable, and as their motivations and attitudes are defensible, it is difficult to decide which of their deepest desires you want to have fulfilled, or to see how it could even happen.(In that way, it was reminiscent of watching Dr. Zhivago for me.) So perhaps in this novel, it is human nature and conficting traditions that are the antagonists, and human nobility and selflessness that becomes the hero in the end.

  • Poiema
    2019-06-26 05:44

    It has been 40+ years since I read Pearl Buck's _The Good Earth_, and I cannot imagine why it has taken me so long to return to this author. I can still remember much about that reading, though so distant-- and the fact that I do remember bears witness to the author's ability to deeply imprint the psyche.Peony is also a memorable read, though entirely different from the Good Earth. Set in the 1800s, it is titled after a Chinese servant girl named Peony. She serves a wealthy Jewish-Chinese family and witnesses the Jewish culture in the last throes of being assimilated into the Chinese culture. The Jewish matriarch of the house, Peony's mistress, makes a desperate attempt to keep the Jewish tradition alive through her son. The son is under a great deal of tension as he must make a choice whether to give his life as a rabbi, or follow his Father--- who is half Chinese--- into a lucrative life of business.I had never realized that there was a Jewish colony in China that survived for many centuries until they fully intermarried with the Chinese to the point where they ceased to be a distinct people. There was an interesting afterward at the back of the book chronicling the history of this group.The Chinese were kind to their Jewish refugees; they were allowed to build a synagogue, to conduct business, and to take full part in the community. The Jewish matriarch of the story noted wryly that, in fact, the Jewish people had been "killed by kindness." In an ironic way, that was true because persecution had failed to eradicate the Jews ---but friendly assimilation effected that very thing in this Chinese colony.There was a very sad moment in the book that became the tipping point for the young man who was being torn by having to choose between the 2 cultures. At this point, a prominent Chinese businessman asked if he could have a tour of the synagogue, which the boy willingly obliged. The businessman was thoroughly impressed by the wisdom of the writings within and marveled that much of it intersected with the wisdom he had acquired via Confucius. At this moment, there was common ground--- an opportunity to share faith and mutual understanding. The spark was quickly extinguished when the elderly rabbi vehemently expelled the man, ironically proclaiming him a "foreigner." Much food for thought here, as we contemplate the Jewish mandate to remain a distinct people vs. their calling to be a light unto the​ nations. The well drawn characters in this book each have their own perspective and create a finely crafted story not to be missed.

  • June
    2019-06-05 06:44

    Peony is a richly told story of the demise of Jews in Kaifeng in China. It is a story of faith, identity, lovr and duty. I kept thinking how well Ms. Buck portrayed both Jewish and Chinese sentiment without judgement. She leaves it to the reader to form their own opinion. In the end how you feel about Peony, depends on your own bias. I'm still conflicted but I know she can't be the sole cause of the blame. Another well written story of every day life in China. The surprising twist is this relatively unknown aspect of Judaism in China.

  • Maggie
    2019-06-20 00:39

    A short synopsis of this plots makes it seem like a romance. It's not. Peony is a "bondwoman", having been sold to a Jewish family when she was 8, as a companion for their only child, David. The children are now marriageable age. David's mother wants him to marry Leah, the beautiful and dutiful daughter of the Rabbi. His father wants him to marry Keilein, the beautiful younger daugter of his business associate. Peony, also quite beautiful, loves David, but knows he cannot marry her. However, her chances of happiness in the house would be much better if he married Keilein than Leah. This book encompasses 50 years in the lives of the Jewish family and their friends. Along the way the reader gets the history fo the Jews in China and the history of China as it unfolds from 1950 to the turn of the century. My only complaint in this book was that there was only one "bad" character, Aaron. Even he was only lazy and greedy, not evil. Everyone else was good with small character flaws, such as pettiness or pride. Otherwise, this is a wonderful character driven plot about China in the 1950s.

  • Tamara
    2019-06-25 00:39

    Mixed reaction to my first Pearl S. Buck novel. The theme of assimilation vs holding true to traditions was interesting but I was put off by some of the author's perspective on this theme. Her characters seemed sterotyped - the "sad jews" and the "happy & carefree natives" were primarily there to give a framework for long philosphical point of views - they did not seem like real people. Buck is obviously a believer in assimiliation over tradition as the characters who hold to their traditions have sad, unhappy lives and those who embrace the local culture are happy. I was also disturbed by the idea that is repeated several times that the jews are persecuted around the world because "they set themselves apart as the chosen people" and of course, others will hate them for that belief. Buck does stop short of accepting total assimiliation to the local culture in that she doesn't let one of her main characters, David, embrace the Chinese notion of having paramours in addition to a wife.

  • Michael Armijo
    2019-06-10 00:43

    This should be required reading."A" is excellent and that's what this book truly is. This was a great book that explored two diverse cultures mingling in love, work, family, religion, aging, power and secrets. It's a vacation to China without actually going. The proverbs, poems and phrases written within the story will stay with you forever. It's so meaningful and will provide a psychological balance for any one. If you are Chinese or Jewish this is a "required reading"! Although, I am a native Californian who was brought up as a Roman Catholic. My ancestry is from Spain and I clearly found some Jewish roots in my mothers' anscestors. And so, this book offered some answers to questions that I've always had in the back of my mind. In the end, you'll learn that, today, we are a world of diverse peoples' who must work together lovingly and happily. There is a great love story intertwined in this wonderful novel, too. it was a great reminder of how the peoples of our past have blood-lined the present populations while we will, henceforth, be a part of future generations.

  • Lisa
    2019-06-11 23:35

    I learned so much. I don't know why, but it never occured to me before that the displaced Jewish people would head east to China as well as west to Europe. And I love how Buck takes the reader into China with information about customs and events with just enough information for understanding without losing the story line at all.Peony's story is tragic but beautiful. She is not perfect, but you can see as she grows and her loves grows. She is, I think, above reproach. There were parts of the story that really pulled at my heart. I would gladly recommend this book to anyone and read it again myself.

  • david
    2019-06-16 00:48

    How many teardrops does anyone have? Is it infinite? This is what resided quietly in a corner of my mind, from the first word read to the last one, of Ms. Buck’s Peony. She, PSB, has a gentleness, a softness, a grace in her intelligent prose that I find seductive. I noticed it in ‘The Good Earth’ and I recognized it again here. If the version I was reading was made from trees rather than electrodes, the pages would have been always moist.This is a tender story of a family living in China during the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. It may not be a book for everyone but Ms. Buck surely allowed me, once again, to be part of the fictional family. I endured all the nuances of a relationship with many of her characters. It was an emotional rollercoaster for us, the characters and me. We shared happiness and sadness, health and sickness, love and like and dislike. There were good and bad times and we pushed through it collectively.I would like to thank my GR friend, K, for recommending this book to me. I hope I can reciprocate the pleasure I derived from it.

  • Victor Carson
    2019-05-30 01:30

    I have read and enjoyed two of the novels for which Pearl S. Buck is best known The Good Earth and Sons , written in the 1930's, but I was unfamiliar with Peony which was published in 1948 - that is, after World War II. I was also unfamiliar with the presence of Jews in China, dating from the 9th century, or earlier. That Jews were still a recognized minority in China in the mid-nineteenth century was quite amazing. Had I been familiar with these historical facts, I would not have thought it likely that Pearl Buck would write a novel about a Jewish enclave in Kaifeng, since she herself is the daughter of Christian missionaries in China. The Kindle edition of Peony was very reasonably priced, however, and included a very good introduction and afterword by Wendy Abram, Ed.D., so I relished the chance to read more of Ms. Buck's work. I was not disappointed.Peony is a Chinese bondmaid, an indentured servant or slave, in the household of Ezra ben Israel, his wife, and his son, David. Peony and David are about the same age, about 18 at the start of the novel, and have grown up like brother and sister. David has been pledged since childhood to marry another Jew, Leah, the daughter of the rabbi of Kaifeng. David's mother, Naomi, Leah, and her father are all fully Jewish. David's father, Ezra, on the other hand, is the son of a Jewish father and a Chinese mother. David resists being required to marry Leah, even though she is beautiful and intelligent. Instead, he would like to court the daughter of Kung Chen, his father's Chinese business partner. Peony herself also loves David and would want him for herself, if she were not a simple bondmaid. These conflicts for David's love make up the heart of the narrative.The novel is much more than an exotic romance, however. The survival of the Jews as a recognizable group within China, the safety and acceptance of the Jews within China, and the contrasting Chinese and and Jewish cultures constitute the real heart of the novel. A few quotes might illustrate these themes:Peony's fear about the change that marriage to Leah would bring to her relationship with David: "Could anything be hidden from the foreign eyes of that young girl? Would she not demand the whole of David, body and mind and spirit? His conscience she would create in her own image, and she would teach him to worship the god of his fathers, and he would cleave to Leah only and there would be no room for any other in his heart."The Chinese view of living in a Jewish household: “But never marry a man you cannot love,” she said. “It’s too hard in a house like that of Ezra, where they do not allow concubines."Several connected thoughts about finding happiness even when life as a whole is sad: "If life could and should be happy, if to be alive itself was good, then why should she not try for everything that could be hers? But if, when all was won, life itself was sad, then she must content herself with what she had. . . . What dreams I made and how I hoped before I knew that life is sad! After I understood this truth I made no more dreams. I hoped no more. Now I am often happy, because some good things come to me. Expecting nothing, I am glad for anything. . . . There were these small pleasures to be had! Here in this house little lives went gaily on, hidden from the great ones. Let her life be one of these! Into her came some spirit too gentle to be force, too quiet to be energy."These themes playout as David's relationship with Leah comes to an unexpected end, he marries and forms a family, and he grows older. When his father is ready to retire and wants David to run the business, David travels to Peking to cultivate contacts with the Western and Eastern Empresses. That journey results in a very bitter confrontation with the Chief Steward of the Imperial Court and to the Steward's demand that David sell Peony into service at the Court. David's reaction to that demand drives the action of the rest of the novel.Many years later, Peony reflects on her life and the survival of Jewish blood in China:“Nothing is lost,” she repeated. “He lives again and again, among our people,” she mused. “Where there is a bolder brow, a brighter eye, there is one like him; where a voice sings most clearly, there is one; where a line is drawn most cleverly to make a picture clear, a carving strong, there is one; where a statesman stands most honorable, a judge most just, there is one; where a scholar is most learned, there is one; where a woman is both beautiful and wise, there is one. Their blood is lively in whatever frame it flows, and when the frame is gone, its very dust enriches the still kindly soil. Their spirit is born anew in every generation. They are no more and yet they live forever.”The beauty of Pearl Buck's thoughts and the maturity of her literary style shine forth in Peony and make this novel very worthwhile reading.

  • Orsolya
    2019-05-29 04:37

    Although I am drawn to Jewish culture (my boyfriend is Jewish); I was unaware of the Jewish assimilation into Imperial China. Pearl S. Buck reveals a cultural and character study in “Peony”.“Peony” encompasses the lovely prose which Buck is known for: strong, smooth, and crisp literary language with a Zen-like ambiance. Buck’s writing style always has a calming effect which adds an ethereal layer to her novels. In comparison to Buck’s “Pavilion of Women” (which I adored); “Peony” is slightly slower in pace and weaker in its impact on the reader. Something seems to be missing in “Peony” which was the starring factor in “Pavilion”. Yet, there are similarities within the two novels making Buck’s writing familiar and attractive. “Peony” follows various characters (telling the story from multiple perspectives) which results in a filter and inhibitor from getting to know each character on a deep level. The main character (Peony, clearly) is not entirely likable and is too contrasting in her behaviors/actions. However, this may be because she is a youth in “Peony”. The characters are simply either “too good” or “too bad” lacking multi-dimensional discovery. The attempt to make Peony’s character strong and profound was instead hazy and uncertain. Plus, Peony’s constant “weeping” and “tears” were extremely annoying. This can also be said about the theme of Jewish assimilation into China. Buck’s knowledge regarding the topic appears vague and construes Jews as the “good guys” with the Chinese as “bad guys”; although she doesn’t give a hearty basis for this distinction. Understandably, the novel needs an antagonist and the culture clash is her purpose but absence of an explanation makes this conflict and characterization unbelievable and in turn makes the Jewish people seem like the negative roles in “Peony”.“Peony” becomes more engaging, less predictable, and filled with more thought-provoking philosophical statements as the story progresses. However, each conflict is too easily solved thus contriving the shallow lack of depth. The chapters in “Peony” are rather long which can distress those readers seeking more regular and patterned breaks. “Peony” slows in pace in the latter half and although it has a philosophical message (concerning the blending of cultures and the death of generations); the execution falls short of Buck’s usual ardor. “Peony” doesn’t make as much of an emotional influence as one would expect from Buck. Furthermore, the ending of the novel is weak and ill-conceived to the rest of the story.“Peony” is a quick read and enticing in comparison to many other historical fiction novels on the shelves. However, it may be a let-down for Buck fans as “Peony” is somewhat sedentary. The novel is worth a read but it is not a masterpiece (it would be very moving for a YA reader, however).

  • Corinne
    2019-06-15 04:26

    In 1850s China, Peony is Chinese bondmaid in a wealthy household. The family whom she serves is not, however, a typical Chinese family - they are Jewish, a remnant of a group of people who arrived in their city of Kaifeng in centuries past. As a foreign people in a fair and accepting society, each generation has found a way to hold on their religious traditions even as interrmarriages and business partnerships make life ever more "Chinese." As Peony grows within this home of strange gods and rituals, she has slowly fallen in love their their only son, David, whom she can clearly never marry. For himself, David's struggle with his mother's religious zeal and his love of the Chinese people and their religion and culture creates a powerful contrast. How Peony and David's lives intermingle in this land of ancient customs as well as the Jewish plight abroad are at the heart of this novel.I have never read anything like this, nor did I have any knowledge of Jewish people living among the Chinese, until I read this novel. Peony is a fascinating, if sometimes frustrating, character. Her choices and feelings felt very realistic, her introspection and behavior, are fascinatingly different to what I would imagine other people would do in her situation. Sometimes she is so wickedly manipulative and other times so loyal - you definitely get an interesting look at the role a slave/servant played in a household, as a person who stood in the background and heard everything - how that intimate knowledge could be used for good or evil. It's a rather tragic story, in many ways, one particular scene completely surprised me with its tragedy. The decline of a culture and religious community is a painful thing and I loved how Buck explored the emotions of all the different people involved as it becomes more and more certain that decline is inevitable. I felt sympathy for, especially, David's mother - who wasn't perfect but I get her soul-deep desires for her son. I get David's feelings too, to be caught between the people he has always lived among and the man his mother wants him to be. I loved how I felt that the writing truly took me to China, it felt intimate and real - and even if it sometimes got repetitive (especially when describing all the getting-dressed and doing-hair etc.) I never wanted to give up on it and in the end, I'm very glad I finished it. Peony's arc as a character was rather beautiful, her loyalty and kindness are their own happy ending.

  • Karen
    2019-06-07 22:50

    The story takes place in Kaifeng, China around 1800 and centers on a Jewish family there. Yes, there was a small but dwindling Jewish population in that city (and several others), the descendants of traders who settled in a land where they did not face discrimination. As the years pass by, many intermarry and it is unclear whether they will survive as a separate group or will assimilate with their Chinese neighbors. The crux of the story is whether David, the son, will marry the rabbi's daughter as his mother wishes him to do, or will marry the daughter of his father's Chinese business partner. The title character, Peony, is a servant who grew up with David and loves him, but knows she cannot marry him herself. While I sympathized with her at the beginning, I found her character almost too saintly by the end. So while the historical aspect was intriguing, the plot peaked too early and I lost interest in the long, drawn-out conclusion. It is nowhere near as engaging as The Good Earth, Buck's most well-known novel.

  • Joann
    2019-06-11 23:34

    I really enjoyed this book. Peony is one of my new favorite heroines. I so admired her courage, intelligence and virtue in a society that often looked down on (or at least discouraged) those characteristics in women. Again Pearl S. Buck has given great insight into the Chinese culture, this time focusing on the Jewish community within China. Throughout the novel Buck raised the interesting idea of dedication to religion versus asimilation to society. I particularly appreciated when Peony and her life-long love (who she was unable to marry due to social position) determine to remain faithful to one another by staying virtuous even though Chinese society at the time would have accepted her as a concubine and would not have judged him for taking a woman other than his wife. Overall an intriguing read that I highly recommend.

  • Sarah
    2019-06-19 06:42

    Having read “The Good Earth” as my first foray into Buck’s novels, everything else by her has had a tough climb to reach the pinnacle I’ve put “Earth” on. This book does a very good job, but still doesn’t topple “Earth.” I liked Peony and David as characters, but I never really could find myself enjoying the story. I wanted to know what happened next, but I wasn’t compelled to keep on reading it. Halfway through the book, it seemed like the story lost steam and veered off into a completely different direction than it originally intended…leaving me wondering what the heck was going on.

  • Sarah H
    2019-06-25 22:37

    I love "The Good Earth" and "Peony" was also a fascinating read. This is not easy-breezy reading and has some thought provoking themes. I even enjoyed the afterward- I had no idea about the history of Jewish settlements in China.

  • Lois R. Gross
    2019-06-09 03:46

    As a young teen, I discovered Pearl Buck's work through "The Good Earth." Her depiction of the life of Chinese peasants captivated my imagination. In those days, Buck lived in Center City Philadelphia, and my mother would point out her street as we walked in the lovely, historical areas of the city near Rittenhouse Square.Somehow, I missed "Peony," although I don't know how. It has Buck's signature location, ancient China, but also introduces a new twist: the vanished Jewish community of Kaifeng. It is a fascinating subject and, for a minister's daughter, Buck obviously did her homework on Jewish custom and, even more, on the descendants of Jews who came as traders along the Silk Road from India and Persia.It is also a prescient study of assimilation and how Judaism is usurped by the dominant culture and, in that respect, it is an object lesson for American Jews who, like the Kaifeng Jews, have found such a safe harbor in this country that intermarriage, in many cases, has diluted the practice of the religion.In the case of "Peony", the house of Ezra is a prosperous one. The leader of the family is, himself, a product of a biracial union but favors his Jewish father in appearance. His wife, Naomi, is Jewish and has set her sights on the rabbi's daughter, Leah, as a wife for her son, David. Lurking in the background are to Chinese women who have their own ambitions for David. There is the third daughter, daughter of a concubine, a small beauty with lotus feet, who David has fallen in love with from afar. There is also Peony, a household servant who knows that a match with the scion of the family is impossible, but commits her life to serving the man she loves.Peony is both an active observer and a catalyst in the story, plotting to remove Leah from David's life because a "foreign" wife will never consider the possibility of a Chinese concubine for her husband. When Leah commits suicide, Peony progresses her plan by playing Cyrano. She writes love poems to David's Chinese beloved and entices the two young people into an ill-advised love match.However, it turns out that Peony is ill-served by the marriage of David to a Chinese woman. Even as he intermarries into the dominant culture and comes to depend on Peony as a sort of major domo for his household, he does not see her as a lover until it is far too late. Peony has become a Buddhist nun rather than take a position in a royal house and leaving the house of Ezra.The sad chapter in this wonderful soap opera is the demise of Judaism. With an aged rabbi and his n'er do well son as the only Jews to carry forth tradition and maintain the Temple, the synagogue is eventually pillaged by the locals for its treasure, even to the gold inlay being pried from the Hebrew script that decorates the house of worship's walls.Buck always drew amazingly complex characters, especially her women characters. Peony is both deeply aware of her station, her obligation to her masters, but also so clever that she is actually the engine that drives the story. Naomi, a strong Jewish mother who is the primary connection to the family's heritage, is both hard and loving, determined and despairing of whether tradition can be maintained. Leah, the rabbi's daughter, stays in the story a relatively short time but poses the one error that Buck makes in Jewish practice. Traditionally, suicides are not buried in the hallowed ground of a Jewish cemetery and must be buried outside the fence or at a distance from others. Perhaps observance was different in this time and place, but it was an off note for me as a reader.An afterword by Dr. Wendy Abraham, an expert in Sino-Jewish history, traces the actual history of the Chinese Jewish community, its eventual loss, and how certain family names still reflect a connection to the lost Jews much as certain Spanish names identify Mexican descendants of crypto-Jews driven from Spain by the Inquisition.This book was originally published in 1948, but it has such current implications that it is a fascinating read for Jews and gentiles, alike.

  • Lynn Zelvin
    2019-06-18 04:35

    I picked up this book, inspired by YouTube videos of Jews from Kaifeng, China talking about their return to their Jewish roots and moving to Israel. I wanted to know more about this community. Of course reading historical fiction is not learning history, and in reading this book set in the 1800's, I spotted a handful of actions that were not in keeping with Judaism as I know it, leaving me to wonder whether they were differences in practice among these Chinese Jews from those of my own Eastern European forebearers, or whether the author had missed some pieces in her research. These were little things, such as - someone who died by suicide being buried in the Jewish cemetery, instead of outside the walls,, while other death rituals such as the washing of the body were missing. I had imagined that Pearl buck was writing this story having encountered these Jews during her life in China and didn't realize that she had not until I read the historical chapter at the end of the book. That she created a compelling story that rang true, based on the limited references of the time was pretty remarkable. The historical Afterword does a good job of describing just how well her story fits the information we do have about this community.As for the story itself, it was compelling and well written. The story focused on the experiences of one family, viewed, in part through the eyes of Peony, a bonded servant, purchased as a child as company for the family's only child David. The book has a clear theme, the conflict between preservation of their religion and traditions, versus the ease they were afforded to completely assimilate into the larger accepting Chinese community. It is unusual to read a Jewish family saga where the conflicts were purely internal, lacking in Anti-Semitism from their neighbors. Also unusual was to hear the story told by a non-Jew who seemingly had no attachment to the outcome, so that each individual was free to make their own choices, free from the attitude of the Author, something which is often present even if unwittingly. I was drawn into the story but never connected emotionally with any of the characters. To my mind, it was a bit too easy to see them as iconic of the different conflicts, than as complex individuals. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable read.

  • Harley
    2019-06-16 00:45

    Pearl Buck tells a fascinating story in Peony about the immigration of Jews to China and how they assimilated into the Chinese culture. Her story begins as the assimilation is almost complete with only a few people still dreaming of returning to their homeland. The story is set in Kaifeng, China in the early 1800's. While the characters in the novel are fictional, the synagogue and many of the events did occur.Published in 1948, Peony still has a powerful message for us today as we continue to struggle with immigration. Hunted, persecuted and murdered in much of the world, the Jews in China were welcomed and encouraged to intermarry with the Chinese. Time and intermarriage ultimately lead to assimilation.I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding the emotional impact of immigration and assimilation.

  • Tara Bloom
    2019-06-10 05:41

    Pearl S. Buck is a literary treasure. She is a compassionate, tender writer, who treats her characters with love and gentleness, her subjects with respect and clarity, and her readers with pleasure and wonder. I read The Good Earth last year and was amazed by how Buck transported me so completely and gratefully to another time, another place, another people. Peony has the same magic. Did you know there were Chinese Jews? I didn’t. This book was fascinating. And Buck’s writing is just so lovely.

  • Kristin Maillard
    2019-06-04 02:44

    I love, love, love Pearl S. Buck. I love the way she treats all her characters and their many personality and cultural uniquenesses. I have long found Chinese culture fascinating and, in this story, it is presented with the equally fascinating Jewish culture. The inner conflict of the main characters as they wrestle with faith and culture is beautifully played out in this novel, against the backdrop of the rhythm and routine of a weathy home, full of beauty. I cannot say enough good things about Pearl Buck.