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Peony: A Novel of China Paperback – January 1, 2006

656 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Peony has the vividness of scene and episode and character and the colorful detail that Pearl Buck's readers have come to expect of her novels in China."
-New York Herald Tribune

"There is great simplicity in the telling of this tale. Perhaps it is expected, but it is nonetheless splendid."
-Saturday Review of Literature
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

About the Author

Pearl S. Buck was born in West Virginia and taken to China as an infant before the turn of the century. Buck grew up speaking Chinese as well as English. She is the most widely translated American author to this day. She has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. She died in 1973.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Moyer Bell and its subsidiaries; 1 edition (January 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559213388
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559213387
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (656 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her parents were Southern Presbyterian missionaries, most often stationed in China, and from childhood, Pearl spoke both English and Chinese. She returned to China shortly after graduation from Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1914, and the following year, she met a young agricultural economist named John Lossing Buck. They married in 1917, and immediately moved to Nanhsuchou in rural Anhwei province. In this impoverished community, Pearl Buck gathered the material that she would later use in The Good Earth and other stories of China.
Pearl began to publish stories and essays in the 1920s, in magazines such as The Nation, The Chinese Recorder, Asia, and The Atlantic Monthly. Her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, was published by the John Day Company in 1930. John Day's publisher, Richard Walsh, would eventually become Pearl's second husband, in 1935, after both received divorces.

In 1931, John Day published Pearl's second novel, The Good Earth. This became the bestselling book of both 1931 and 1932, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Howells Medal in 1935, and would be adapted as a major MGM film in 1937. Other novels and books of nonfiction quickly followed. In 1938, less than a decade after her first book had appeared, Pearl won the Nobel Prize in literature, the first American woman to do so. By the time of her death in 1973, Pearl had published more than seventy books: novels, collections of stories, biography and autobiography, poetry, drama, children's literature, and translations from the Chinese. She is buried at Green Hills Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

207 of 211 people found the following review helpful By Xoe Li Lu VINE VOICE on February 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Peony" is a subtle, quiet novel - an excellent example of Pearl Buck's elegant and dignified style. Based on true events, the novel chronicles the life of Peony, a bondmaid who was sold to a wealthy Chinese/Jewish family. "Peony" can be considered a work of historical fiction, as Ms. Buck's excellent research provides accurate and extremely interesting information on Jews in China.
The story takes place over a century ago in K'aifeng, the home of the largest Jewish colony in China. At the time, Jews were rapidly assimilating into Chinese society and culture, and losing their Jewish identity. "Peony" tells the story of one particularly prominent Jewish family through the eyes of the ethnic Chinese bondmaid, and how the problem of assimilation effects each family member individually. The topic - Jewish identity in China - is fascinating and not commonly discussed.
Ms. Buck's amazing ability to create depth of character is in strong evidence in "Peony," and all of the characters are extremely well developed and realistic. While the story incorporates a historic element, it also includes interesting subplots of unrequited love, familial strife, and the age-old Chinese (and Jewish) concept of filial duty and respect.
This book is indicative of Pearl Buck's genius and gift for storytelling. Ms. Buck doesn't need to resort to hyperbole to get her point across - the words are carefully chosen and the story is beautifully constructed. Her writing style is gorgeous and evocative. The author's famous love for China and its many cultures is evident in her delicate prose - she treats the characters and the plot with utmost respect and historical accuracy. The beauty of China and the Chinese and Jewish cultures are done tremendous justice by this lovely book.
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96 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Joan C. Frank on July 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I accidentally found "Peony" while I was trying to find a book that would teach me how to grow peonies. The title, the topic and Buck's reputation helped me decide to read it. I am so glad that I did.

Other reviewers have told of the understated, beautiful use of language. They have spoken of the interesting juxtaposition of the Jewish and Chinese cultures, the gentleness of the story, and Buck's decision not to satisfy our need for a Hollywood ending.

All of these wonderful aspects allowed me to focus on other layers of the novel. The fact that the Jewish community in Kaifeng eventually allowed themselves to forget their own culture was fascinating. Their acceptance of and integration into the Chinese culture is portrayed as inexorable. Most slipped away easily; others faced the loss with overwhelming grief. Buck describes the Chinese characters in this book as being accepting of others while being a bit hedonistic themselves. They choose to seek pleasure and temporal fullfillment while the Jews focus on the horror of oppression, complex ritual and the absolute truth of their history and destiny. In other words, it seemed that the Jews were willing to give up their faith because it was difficult to maintain personally and for the community as a whole.

The final destruction of the core of the Jewish community is, ironically, a product of being a "chosen people." Kao Lien (a business associate of the Ezra family) tells David ben Ezra (Peony's young master) that the Jews, "were hated because they separated themselves from the rest of mankind. They called themselves chosen of God." This is David's first inkling that the world has alternate views of the Jewish people. This is a pivotable moment in the novel.
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Format: Paperback
This is the story of Jews in Kaifeng, China, blended with a good love story and a saga of a family. The novel is set around the time of the Opium Wars (ca 1840) with creative license taken with some of the historical timeline.

This is also a love story--a romance set in an exotic historical setting. The impossible love of Peony for her young master, David, and the love triangle between David, Leah, the daughter of the rabbi, and Kueilan, the pretty but frivolous daughter of Ezra's business partner makes for plenty of romantic conflict. The novel cleverly tells the tale of a prominent Jewish family struggling to retain their identity, yet having for several generations married Chinese wives and becoming slowly absorbed into Chinese culture.

The language Pearl Buck uses is clever; if you've read "The Good Earth: she keeps the language simple to catch the flavor of the simple Chinese peasant farmers. In Peony, she captures the formal interactions between masters and servants, between men and women both Chinese and of foreign descent. She succeeds brilliantly in making the speech patterns of each character suit their role. The characters are well-drawn and appealing; the wise and beautiful Peony, who was bought as a child abandoned and sold by parents during many of the floods and famines, David, the handsome young son of the family, Ezra, his earthy and lovable father and his dominating mother Naomi, who struggles to carry on the traditions in a foreign land. The minor characters are equally good--Wang Ma, the old servant woman, Aaron, the criminal and lost son of the Rabbi, and Kung Chen, Ezra's Chinese business partner.
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