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3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  3,624 ratings  ·  275 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 thi ...more
280 pages
Published March 28th 1950 by Pocket Books (Mm) (first published 1948)
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Oct 15, 2008 rivka rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to rivka by: Kressel
Shelves: jewish, historical
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
LAPL Reads
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
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
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
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.

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.
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
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
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
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
Michael Selvin
Grand Opera

How we forget the power of the masters, and this tremendous story is masterfully told. Pearl Buck, Noble and Pulitzer prize winner, wrote this novel over a half century ago: a love story crossing cultural and religious boundaries. In lesser hands, this novel could easily have been an historical soap opera like so many books we see today. Instead Buck has told the story of a moving and complex love between a Jewish man and his lifelong bond servant, David and Peony. At the same time sh
I really enjoyed this so much more than I thought I would. I'm not sure why I've never read any Pearl S. Buck before, but her prose was beautiful. I had no idea about the history of Jews in Kaifeng, but I thought that she captured the yearning of the characters beautifully. The parallel stories of Peony and David are sad, but I think the point is that there is beauty in that as well. I'm still ruminating on all the dichotomies that Buck manages to fit into such a relatively short story. Particul ...more
Camille Mccarthy
This was a very interesting and deep book about a Jewish family which had been in China for generations and their bondmaid, Peony. She loves the son of the family but she knows she can never marry him because she is a bondmaid. He must choose between marrying a Jewish girl and marrying a Chinese girl. His mother sees this as a choice between continuing the Jewish faith of their ancestors or being lost to the "heathen" ways of the Chinese. The book looks closely at Judaism, what it means to be J ...more
From an historical perspective this was a really interesting book. I had known nothing about the Jewish population of Kaifeng China and to understand the death of this population through assimilation was really eye opening. The Jews fell by the wayside through complete assimilation and this book provides the perfect example of how that happened; through kindness and acceptance (what a novel concept in light of today's world!). The message holds up over time but I fear that the writing didn't. I ...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
A very interesting book set in an ancient Jewish community in China. It is told from the point of view of a Chinese bondmaid in a Jewish household. Buck gives a lot of wonderful cultural detail as the Jewish community is assimilated into the Chinese culture. This edition also includes an afterward that explains what we do know of Jews in China and this last known community in Kaifeng.

The story line with the strongly delineated characters is compelling.
3.5 stars if probably more accurate a rating. 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.

PEONY is fundamentally a romance focused on the first born son of a wealthy merchant and a bondmaid in his parent's employ and as such, it is a story of classes in China. But I became much more fascinated with the parallel story of a waning population of Jews in
Interesting love story of Jewish-Chinese people in China. Explores themes of cultural identity, otherness, religion, love, philosophy.
A. R.
If someone had described this book to me for what it really is, I probably would have never picked it up. I was sucked in by the back cover, promising me a romance between the son of a well respected family and a bond servant. Peony was so much more than that.

It is true that part of the story is about Peony, the little bond servant, and her young master, David. But another part of the story is about China. And another part about the persecution and destruction of Jews throughout the world. It is
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Peony by Pearl S. Buck 7 49 Oct 30, 2014 07:38AM  
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Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (1892–1973) 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 t ...more
More about Pearl S. Buck...
The Good Earth (House of Earth, #1) Pavilion of Women: [A Novel of Life in the Women's Quarters] Imperial Woman Sons (House of Earth, #2) East Wind: West Wind

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“there is one word that can be the guide for your life- it is the word reciprocity.” 25 likes
“He was part of a whole, a people scattered over the earth and yet eternally one and indivisible. Wherever a Jew lived, in whatever safety and isolation, he still belonged to his people.” 9 likes
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