Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I'm in a cranky, cranky mood today. Not entirely sure why. Cranky cranky cranky.

This post is a little cranky, but I actually wrote it days ago, when I was in a perfectly lovely mood.

Peony by Pearl S. Buck.

This one gets a resounding "meh" for reasons I can't really put my finger on. Quite possibly, maybe only because it wasn't as good as The Good Earth (which I had to read for school, but it was so good that when I didn't get it finished for class, I went back and finished it when the semester ended).

Also, I used to walk by Pearl Buck's Nanjing house on my way to class. So maybe it's just that it wasn't as good as I was hoping...


Kaifeng is a city in central China known for once having boasted an active Jewish community. (Not converted Han Chinese, but rather ethnic Jews who had sought refuge in China, where they were allowed to worship freely.)

This is a story about a Jewish family in Kaifeng as their community slowly dies into full assimilation into the greater Chinese community. Peony, the title character, is the bondmaid to David, the only child of one of the most observant families in town.

Part of this story deals with the death of the community when there's no one left to take over for the Rabbi. Part of it deals with Peony's forbidden love for David and the inherit cultural differences between the Chinese and Jewish ways of life. (Had Peony been a bondmaid in a Chinese family, she could have easily been taken as a concubine, which is not allowed under Jewish law.)

The bulk of the story deals with the questions of assimilation and staying true to one's roots. The assimilation in Kaifeng kills the community, but keeping apart leads to the massacres of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Only briefly does Buck touch on the fact that outside of China, Jewish people were not given the choice between being separate and assimilating. They were kept separate on purpose, which lead to being murdered for being different. That might be my main problem with this book-- that this truth is fairly muddled for most of the narrative.

Also, it tends to be a lot of people just sitting around and talking.

But, I really appreciated the ending, which is not Hollywood perfect, but as happy as you can get with still being true and real to the story and time and place.

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