THE JADE PEONY by Wayson Choy

THE JADE PEONY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 This eloquent, confident debut, co-winner of Canada's 1995 Trillium Prize, offers a complex view of family life among Chinese immigrants living in Vancouver as social pressures from within and without have a lasting effect on three children. In the years before WW II, with Japan already invading China, life in Vancouver's Chinatown is hard but seemingly safe for Liang, Jung, and young Sekky. Each of them has a special friend, one who, taking the place of their endlessly working parents, can give them precious memories. For Liang, her attachment to the monkey-faced, crippled Old Wong, veteran of the railroad-building camps in the Rockies, is amply rewarded: He pampers her, encouraging her to tap dance and emulate her idol Shirley Temple. For the adopted Jung, brutal abuse at an early age has made him tough and wary, drawing him to boxing and the incomparable example of Joe Louis, but also to a role model closer to home: supertough Frank Yuen, the best boxer around, who nurtures Jung's talent and also makes him aware of his sexual difference. Finally, Sekky, ailing but alert, finds himself with two powerful guides: his Old China Grandmama, who gives him back his health and whose belief in ghosts keeps her with him after her death; and his beautiful teenage neighbor Meiying, whose love for a Japanese boy in the midst of rising anti-Japanese hysteria moves Sekky to doubt the wisdom of the prevailing hatred. But for each child, the joy of sharing also comes with the pain of leaving, as Old Wong returns to China, Frank Yuen joins the US Marines, and, like Grandmama, Meiying dies, the entrenched racism that forced her from her boyfriend also keeping her from receiving emergency medical care. Childhood lessons are quietly, powerfully drawn here, with Choy's evocation of harsh immigrant reality nothing short of masterful.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15556-5
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1997