The Jade Peony

Wayson Choy, Author Picador USA $22 (240p) ISBN 978-0-312-15556-8
Choy's first novel, a bestseller in Canada, where it won the 1995 Trillium Award, is related by three young siblings who tell of their family's move from China to Vancouver's Chinatown in the 1930s. Cherishing yet bridling against the customs of their elders like Poh-Poh, the matriarchal grandmother who insists that they call their birth mother (their father's concubine) ""Stepmother,"" Jook-Liang, her adopted younger brother, Jung-Sum, and youngest brother, Sek-Lung, struggle to adjust to their uneasily hyphenated Chinese-Canadian lives. Divided into three parts, the novel describes the formation of each child's identity. Jook-Liang, declared a ""useless"" girl-child by Poh-Poh, aspires to tap dance like Shirley Temple and to otherwise thrive in her new home. Yet she is enthralled by her grandmother's folk tales and her beautiful ""Old China"" ways. Jung-Sum tries to vanquish the demons of his past by boxing, even as he discovers a disturbing sexual attraction to a male friend. Frail Sekky helps the family heal after the death of Poh-Poh, who was their vital link to the past and the spiritual center of the family. Choy, who teaches English at Humber College in Toronto, adds a heartfelt, beautifully expressed new voice to the growing literature of the Chinese immigrant experience. Readers, however, will wish that he had developed each sibling's destiny further. Did Jung-Sum, for instance, ever express his homosexuality? Perhaps we will find out in a sequel. Meanwhile, Choy's three children, and the details of their lives in the New World, stand for the universal immigrant experience and aren't easily forgotten. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/28/1997
Release date: 05/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-312-18692-0
Paperback - 299 pages - 978-1-59051-216-6
Paperback - 278 pages - 978-1-55054-468-8
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