Author Pearl S. Buck has a lovely way of conveying Chinese sensibility in her writing. So, this is a pleasure to read. From a plot standpoint however, I found the resolution of the plot a bit clunky. Generously awarded four stars on Goodreads but 3.5 is probably more accurate.
PEONY is fundamentally a romance focused on the first born son of a wealthy merchant and a bondmaid (slave girl) in his parent’s employ and as such, it is a story of class in China.
But I became much more fascinated with the side story of a waning population of Jews in one city in China, as they struggle between maintaining their religious traditions against the pressure to assimilate. (The book ends with a chapter by a scholar summarizing the history of Jews in China, which began in the 600s. Who knew?)
PEONY takes place in the late 1800s or early 1900s – so there’s an opportunity to learn about Chinese life at that time — like how trade was conducted, how marriages were arranged, how large households operated, and the ways in which families functioned together. All in all, it’s an interesting exploration of the culture of China.
This author, perhaps most famous for her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Good Earth, is a fascinating person. Her parents were missionaries in China and her life (1892 – 1973) spanned years that saw a remarkable transformation in China. Here’s a link to a brief biography of Pearl S. Buck.