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BOOK REVIEW:

Peony

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Call Number: 
Ed.b

Pearl Buck, Nobel Prize winning author, is best known for The Good Earth, which has become a classic tale of Chinese peasant life prior to the 1949 Revolution in China. Pearl Buck was raised in China, 1892 – 1910, and developed a deep interest in the country, the people, their history, culture and language. She became a prolific writer of many novels, and this is one of her great love stories which revolves around the Jewish community in Kaifeng, whose origins date back somewhere between 960 – 1127.

The story begins near the turn of the 19th century when Peony is an eighteen-year-old  Chinese bondmaid for a wealthy Jewish family in Kaifeng. Purchased as a child for the family’s only son, David, she has grown up with him and received much kindness as well as an education. She is just realizing that she is in love with David as his devout mother, Madame Ezra, is hastening David’s arranged marriage with the Rabbi’s daughter, Leah. Observant and clever, yet always adherent to household and societal duties, Peony attempts to steer events to her advantage. But despite her intelligence and efficiency, occurrences beyond her control cause dramatic changes to the entire household. It is as much the story of Madame Ezra’s desperate attempt to keep her small Jewish community from completely assimilating into the tolerant Chinese culture, as of romantic entanglements. Buck reveals the intricacies of both personal and cultural relationships through detailed descriptions of daily life, and the thoughts and actions of a multitude of characters. Though purely a work of fiction, the historical circumstances are based on an actual colony of Jews who settled in the region centuries prior to the novel’s action. The 2004 Moyer Bell edition (Ed.b in LAPL's catalog) includes a map and timeline of their experience in China, plus an extensive afterword by Wendy R. Abraham.

Be sure to check Pearl Buck, for a list of some of her novels, with annotations.

 

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