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3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  4,520 Ratings  ·  345 Reviews

Young Peony is sold into a rich Chinese household as a bondmaid an awkward role in which she is more than a servant, but less than a daughter. As she grows into a lovely, provocative young woman, Peony falls in love with the family's only son. However, tradition forbids them to wed. How she resolves her love for him and her devotion to her adoptive family unfolds in this

Paperback, 338 pages
Published May 1st 1997 by Bloch Publishing Company (first published 1948)
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May 21, 2008 rivka rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to rivka by: Kressel
Shelves: historical, jewish
There are two main ways Jews have disappeared from a given place: hatred and kindness. Hatred causes holocausts and inquisitions; kindness makes assimilation attractive.

There are many many books about the former. This is one of the few good books I have read about the latter.
Years ago, I discovered that there was a Kosher Chinese restaurant in Hendon, a suburb in North West London. It was, and still is, called ‘Kaifeng’. It is named after the city of the same name in mainland China, which had a Jewish community dating back to 1100 AD if not before. So, when I discovered that there had been a novel written about the Jews of this city, I obtained a copy.

The novel, “Peony”, set in the 19th century, is written by Pearl Buck, who lived for many years in China. Peony is a
Kressel Housman
As I've said before, my criterion for rating a psychology book a 5 is if it changes my life positively. This novel solidified for me my criterion for giving a novel a 5: do I shed actual tears for the characters? In this case, the answer is yes, so hence the 5 stars.

The book is set in the home of a Jewish merchant family in China in the 1850's. According to the historical afterword in my copy of the book, Jews lived in China as far back as the 1200's, and the 1850's is when they ceased to functi
Maggie Anton
This was another difficult book to rate. The writing is exquisite, which is to be expected from a Nobel Prize in literature winner. The plot is classic "happy" Chinese love story, where girl and boy end up knowing that they love each other but are unable to consummate the relationship [classic "unhappy" Chinese love story is where they die never knowing how the other felt]. But I had a hard time with how Pearl S. Buck portrayed the 19th-century Jews of Kaifeng and how their community, which had ...more
Sep 26, 2016 david rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How many teardrops does anyone have? Is it infinite? This is what resided quietly in a corner of my mind, from the first word read to the last one, of Ms. Buck’s Peony. She, PSB, has a gentleness, a softness, a grace in her intelligent prose that I find seductive. I noticed it in ‘The Good Earth’ and I recognized it again here. If the version I was reading was made from trees rather than electrodes, the pages would have been always moist.
This is a tender story of a family living in China during
Jul 15, 2014 George rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nook-st, pearl-buck

"Yet what is right except that which makes happiness and what is wrong except that which makes sorrow?"–page 132

The novels of Pearl S. Buck never fail to remind me just what 'reading for pleasure' is really all about.

PEONY: A Novel of China—the story of the beautiful Chinese bondservant, raised and indentured, in the household of a noted, China-born, family of European Jews; who witnesses the fascinating closing days of the complete assimilation of the Kaifeng (Chin
Sep 25, 2007 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Peony is an interesting look at the death of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, though in many ways, it is a case-study for what could happen to any Jewish community that becomes assimilated.

Pearl S. Buck's writing is excellent, and the storytelling is engaging. I had some issues with the story, since I do not agree with intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, or with the casual attitude taken by some of the characters when simply tossing aside Jewish rituals and traditions, nor with the
May 06, 2008 Miriam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book since I knew the quality of Buck's writing, and was in the mood for another novel about China. Much to my surprise, when I opened the book, I found a story about Jewish people living amongst the Chinese in the late 19th century, whose people had lived for generations in Kaifeng (a true, yet little-known tidbit of Chinese history). Who knew?

This is a good book for those who found Pearl S. Buck to be an enthralling writer in The Good Earth, but who had a hard time liking the
Feb 19, 2017 Poiema rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish-interest
It has been 40+ years since I read Pearl Buck's _The Good Earth_, and I cannot imagine why it has taken me so long to return to this author. I can still remember much about that reading, though so distant-- and the fact that I do remember bears witness to the author's ability to deeply imprint the psyche.

Peony is also a memorable read, though entirely different from the Good Earth. Set in the 1800s, it is titled after a Chinese servant girl named Peony. She serves a wealthy Jewish-Chinese family
May 22, 2012 Maggie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short synopsis of this plots makes it seem like a romance. It's not. Peony is a "bondwoman", having been sold to a Jewish family when she was 8, as a companion for their only child, David. The children are now marriageable age. David's mother wants him to marry Leah, the beautiful and dutiful daughter of the Rabbi. His father wants him to marry Keilein, the beautiful younger daugter of his business associate. Peony, also quite beautiful, loves David, but knows he cannot marry her. However, her ...more
Dec 16, 2012 Tamara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Mixed reaction to my first Pearl S. Buck novel. The theme of assimilation vs holding true to traditions was interesting but I was put off by some of the author's perspective on this theme. Her characters seemed sterotyped - the "sad jews" and the "happy & carefree natives" were primarily there to give a framework for long philosphical point of views - they did not seem like real people. Buck is obviously a believer in assimiliation over tradition as the characters who hold to their tradition ...more
Jan 20, 2010 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned so much. I don't know why, but it never occured to me before that the displaced Jewish people would head east to China as well as west to Europe. And I love how Buck takes the reader into China with information about customs and events with just enough information for understanding without losing the story line at all.

Peony's story is tragic but beautiful. She is not perfect, but you can see as she grows and her loves grows. She is, I think, above reproach.

There were parts of the stor
Michael Armijo
Nov 02, 2010 Michael Armijo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This should be required reading.

"A" is excellent and that's what this book truly is. This was a great book that explored two diverse cultures mingling in love, work, family, religion, aging, power and secrets. It's a vacation to China without actually going. The proverbs, poems and phrases written within the story will stay with you forever. It's so meaningful and will provide a psychological balance for any one. If you are Chinese or Jewish this is a "required reading"! Although, I am a native
Victor Carson
I have read and enjoyed two of the novels for which Pearl S. Buck is best known The Good Earth and Sons , written in the 1930's, but I was unfamiliar with Peony which was published in 1948 - that is, after World War II. I was also unfamiliar with the presence of Jews in China, dating from the 9th century, or earlier. That Jews were still a recognized minority in China in the mid-nineteenth century was quite amazing. Had I been familiar with these historical facts, I would not have thought it lik ...more
Although I am drawn to Jewish culture (my boyfriend is Jewish); I was unaware of the Jewish assimilation into Imperial China. Pearl S. Buck reveals a cultural and character study in “Peony”.

“Peony” encompasses the lovely prose which Buck is known for: strong, smooth, and crisp literary language with a Zen-like ambiance. Buck’s writing style always has a calming effect which adds an ethereal layer to her novels. In comparison to Buck’s “Pavilion of Women” (which I adored); “Peony” is slightly slo
Jun 24, 2011 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read “The Good Earth” as my first foray into Buck’s novels, everything else by her has had a tough climb to reach the pinnacle I’ve put “Earth” on. This book does a very good job, but still doesn’t topple “Earth.” I liked Peony and David as characters, but I never really could find myself enjoying the story. I wanted to know what happened next, but I wasn’t compelled to keep on reading it. Halfway through the book, it seemed like the story lost steam and veered off into a completely diffe ...more
Kristin Maillard
Apr 16, 2017 Kristin Maillard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love, love, love Pearl S. Buck. I love the way she treats all her characters and their many personality and cultural uniquenesses. I have long found Chinese culture fascinating and, in this story, it is presented with the equally fascinating Jewish culture. The inner conflict of the main characters as they wrestle with faith and culture is beautifully played out in this novel, against the backdrop of the rhythm and routine of a weathy home, full of beauty. I cannot say enough good things about ...more
Kirsty Leishman
The appeal of Peony is two-fold. First, it reveals a history of the Jewish diaspora in China--a population I was entirely ignorant of--and second, it was published in 1948, suggesting that Buck wrote at the very time when the atrocities of Nazi Germany were revealed to the world. The latter context embeds the book in a conversation about about Jewish identity, a question that was surely uppermost in many people's minds of the time as they struggled to process such an overwhelming and final expre ...more
Debra Anne
I have loved Pearl Buck since I was a teenager. The first book of hers I read was MY SEVERAL WORLDS, and afterward I have read every one I can lay hands on. I have re-read IMPERIAL WOMAN recently, and find that this story takes place in the same time frame, and characters in PEONY cross paths with the Imperial Woman briefly and significantly for Peony's destiny.

PEONY didn't disappoint me in that Buck's prose is like an Asian painting, full of poetry and subtlety and grace. I was, however, jarred
In 1850s China, Peony is Chinese bondmaid in a wealthy household. The family whom she serves is not, however, a typical Chinese family - they are Jewish, a remnant of a group of people who arrived in their city of Kaifeng in centuries past. As a foreign people in a fair and accepting society, each generation has found a way to hold on their religious traditions even as interrmarriages and business partnerships make life ever more "Chinese." As Peony grows within this home of strange gods and rit ...more
LAPL Reads
Dec 30, 2014 LAPL Reads rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pearl Buck, Nobel Prize winning author, is best known for The Good Earth, which has become a classic tale of Chinese peasant life prior to the 1949 Revolution in China. Pearl Buck was raised in China, 1892 – 1910, and developed a deep interest in the country, the people, their history, culture and language. She became a prolific writer of many novels, and this is one of her great love stories which revolves around the Jewish community in Kaifeng, whose origins date back somewhere between 960 – 1 ...more
May 02, 2007 bonnie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that discusses the later years of the somewhat well known Chinese Jewish community in Kaifeng, China during the Song dynasty. As someone who lists both "Chinese" and "Judaism" in some form on her resume, and who visited Kaifeng specifically to learn about the Chinese Jews, I was an ideal candidate to adore this book, and I didn't. I'm glad I read it because it's so in line with my interests, but it probably isn't that worth it if you're not otherwise interested in Jews in China.

May 10, 2008 Kie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like Pearl S. Buck's writing. "The Good Earth" is one of the few books I have hung onto after reading. I've started to read a biography about her because I want to learn more about this white woman born of missionary parents in China. It's titled "Pearl Buck: A Woman in Conflict."

Her other books are akin to historical novels. I like reading about the people of the time struggling through all the things that make us all human, regardless of where we come from. Of course, I don't know how accura
I really enjoyed this book. Peony is one of my new favorite heroines. I so admired her courage, intelligence and virtue in a society that often looked down on (or at least discouraged) those characteristics in women. Again Pearl S. Buck has given great insight into the Chinese culture, this time focusing on the Jewish community within China. Throughout the novel Buck raised the interesting idea of dedication to religion versus asimilation to society. I particularly appreciated when Peony and her ...more
Jan 17, 2014 Teodora rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I expected more of "Peony" since it was written by a Nobel and Pulitzer winning author. I find it interesting how foreign (western) authors depict the life, culture and philosophy of chinese/japanese/asian people, because it's a point of view that I can relate to.
There are some things I generally don't like about that kind of novels - to much prejudice and pathetics (descriptions), and that's exactly what I got with "Peony". She is the central caracter, almost flawless, selfless, giving... It s
Mar 19, 2008 Monty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second book I've read by nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck. It's an historical novel because it begins in 1948 Kaifeng China in a Jewish household at a time when the Jewish population that had been living there for centuries was beginning to dwindle in numbers and to let go of traditional Jewish practices (there are many websites that describe the Jews in China; here is one of them While reading the book I mostly felt an inner sadness as the comp ...more
Sep 22, 2016 Jeannie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another good book

I always learn something from Pearl S.Buck's books ,and this was no exception. I had never heard of the migration of Jews to China.It turned out to be that their biggest problem was one that it has always been, and that is in intermarrying with the people around them.There God Jehovah had warned them of this when he set them aside as his own people,starting with Abraham. But they never listened,and it was no different with the Chinese Jews.
Soon they couldn't remember why they sh
Dec 30, 2009 Julianne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book and was enchanted by the main character and some others, as well. A wonderful story -- the only thing I was let down by was that the ending came too quickly, or, the story was wrapped up quickly toward the end and in a way I didn't quite relate to. This is one of those books that one reads and doesn't want to finish; you want to live with the characters indefinitely! Anything by Pearl Buck is well worth reading, and this is no exception. Written beautifully, captures one from t ...more
Shelly Mullen
Feb 04, 2017 Shelly Mullen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Once again, I have enjoyed a book by Pearl S Buck. This is the story of Peony, a Chinese girl who was a maid for a Jewish family in China. It is the story of a tangled web of love, told from the time Peony was a child, until she was an old woman. I truly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
Nov 17, 2014 Kathy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in Kaifeng, Hanan, China in the 1800's, Buck spins a story about a Chinese girl purchased as a bondmaid by a wealthy Jewish family who were 4th generation living in China. Buck explores the political, ethnic & cultural conflicts of the era as well as delves into the emotions of her characters
being mutually assimilated into foreign cultures. Underlying these conflicts is a beautiful story of the bondmaid's love, wisdom & patient devotion to her master.
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2015 Reading Chal...: Peony by Pearl S. Buck 1 6 Nov 17, 2015 10:06AM  
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Pearl Sydenstricker Buck was a bestselling and Nobel Prize–winning author. Her classic novel The Good Earth (1931) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and William Dean Howells Medal. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, Buck was the daughter of missionaries and spent much of the first half of her life in China, where many of her books are set. In 1934, civil unrest in China forced Buck back to the United St ...more
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“there is one word that can be the guide for your life- it is the word reciprocity.” 29 likes
“You cannot be happy until you understand that life is sad” 15 likes
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