"Beautifully written….It renders a complex and complete human world, which by the end we have learned to love."—The Boston Book Review
Chinatown, Vancouver, in the late 1930s and '40s provides the backdrop for this poignant first novel, told through the vivid reminiscences of the three younger children of an immigrant Chinese family. The siblings grapple with their individual identities in a changing world, wresting autonomy from the strictures of history, family, and poverty. Sister Jook-Liang dreams of becoming Shirley Temple and escaping the rigid, old ways of China. Adopted Second Brother Jung-Sum, struggling with his sexuality and the trauma of his childhood in China, finds his way through boxing. Third Brother Sekky, who never feels comfortable with the multitude of Chinese dialects swirling around him, becomes obsessed with war games, and learns a devastating lesson about what war really means when his 17-year-old babysitter dates a Japanese man.
Mingling with life in Canada and the horror of war are the magic, ghosts, and family secrets of Poh-Poh, or Grandmother, who is the heart and pillar of the family. Side by side, her three grandchildren survive hardships and heartbreaks with grit and humor. Like the jade peony of the title, Choy's storytelling is at once delicate, powerful, and lovely.
The Jade Peony was selected by the Literary Review of Canada as one of the "100 Most Important Books in Canadian History" in 2005. It was also an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year in 1998, and was winner of the 1995 Trillium Award (shared with Margaret Atwood).
The Jade Peony
, Wayson Choy's first novel and a RUSA Notable Book, is a genre-bending, memoirlike collection of stories about a family in Vancouver's Chinatown before and during World War II. Three siblings tell the stories of their very different childhoods in a world defined by change, each in their own way wresting autonomy from the strictures of history, family, and poverty. Sister Jook-Liang aspires to be Shirley Temple; adopted Second Brother Jung-Sum, who struggles with his sexuality, finds his way through boxing. Third Brother Sekky, who never feels comfortable with the multitude of Chinese dialects swirling around him, becomes obsessed with war games, and learns a devastating lesson about what war really means when his 17-year-old babysitter dates a Japanese man, with terrible consequences.
One of Choy's most compelling subjects is the fluidity of the extended family. The shadowy woman everyone calls Stepmother is a house servant and concubine who moves into the role of mother, giving birth to two of the siblings but never quite achieving full status. Many chapters focus on the powerful effects friends and neighbors have on the family and the importance of their names and titles. Choy's evocations of life in Depression-era and wartime Vancouver are especially memorable: the bewildered air of Little Tokyo during the first Christmas after Pearl Harbor, a burned-down church that Sekky and his grandmother pick through for bits of the stained-glass windows--a metaphor for the family's task of sorting out what to keep and what to abandon as it moves into the future. Like the jade peony of the title, Choy's storytelling is at once delicate, powerful, and lovely.