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Peony: A Novel of China

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  6,333 ratings  ·  494 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
ebook, 339 pages
Published August 21st 2012 by Open Road Media (first published 1948)
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Average rating 3.99  · 
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Greta G
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Greta G by: d.a.v.i.d
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, gentle jewish boy, David, who lived in a beautiful house with a beautiful garden in the beautiful city Kaifeng in China.
His gentle father Ezra, a successful trader, was married with the most beautiful and rich jewish woman of Kaifeng.
His beautiful, gentle Chinese bondmaid, Peony, loves him dearly and although they can't be together, she gently and tenderly devotes her life and beauty to him.
His scheming mother wants David to marry the tender, beautiful
Alice Poon
I must say this historical novel is quite different from anything I’ve read thus far in the genre. It is a story of impossible love between a Chinese bondmaid and a young Jewish man in the Jewish community of 19th century China. The crux of the story lies in the spiritual or ideological clash between the Chinese and the Jewish culture, and this clash is seen as a subtle force that simmers beneath the surface of differing customs and traditions, until it bubbles up and creates the ultimate barrie ...more
May 21, 2008 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.
ETA: I want my reviews to be clear and easily understandable. For those of you who only see the positive in what I have stated and thus do not understand why I gave the book three rather than four or five stars, please read messages thirteen and fourteen below.


Look at the cover I have chosen. It was the cover of the 1948 edition, the very first edition of the book. I think it is sweet. That is Peony on the cover. She is the Chinese bondmaid about which the book is written. A bondma
Joy D
Historical fiction at its best. Published in 1948, and set in the 1800s, this book is a fascinating exploration of a relatively unknown piece of history: a Jewish community living in Kaifeng, China. Buck employs a single family, that of Ezra ben Israel, his wife Naomi, his son David, and bondmaid Peony, to represent the descendants of the Jews that initially settled in China many generations before, showing how difficult it can be to retain the ancient traditions in an environment of acceptance. ...more
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 funct
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
Jul 15, 2014 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
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
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ancestors are the roots in any house, and children are the flowers, and the two must not be cut asunder.

I picked up this book on a whim at the library because I knew Pearl S. Buck had been somewhat of an expert in writing historical fiction set in China and that she'd been compared to Lisa See. I was pleased to see that this book was about the Kaifeng Jews in China, a little known group of Jewish people in midland China which has mostly ceased to exist via years of assimilation and mixing wi
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“You paid money for me, but that does not make me yours. A human creature can’t be bought whole.”

Excellent. Buck delves deep into the thoughts and emotions of the title character and those closest to her. Unlike typical novels, the reader is immersed in the flow of hopes and uncertainty of all the principal cast. Based on history, Buck explores the assimilation of Jewish communities which had existed for hundreds of years in China.

“Out of the dark and sullen bottom of a lake the lotus flowers bl
May 06, 2008 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
I thought it was too much of a love story and lost it's way by losing the Lost Tribe.
The beautiful bondwoman Peony is in love with the handsome David who is love with an even-more-beautiful Chinese girl (who he has seen once) Keuilan. Due to her low station in life, Peony will never be able to marry David. Meanwhile David's mother is scheming to marry him to the also beautiful-but-more-of-a-sister Leah so that two families of Jews are united and the shrinking gene pool of the small Jewish commun
Feb 19, 2017 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
Sep 25, 2007 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 22, 2012 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
Michael Armijo
Nov 02, 2010 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
Dec 16, 2012 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 traditions ha ...more
Jan 20, 2010 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
Peony is a richly told story of the demise of Jews in Kaifeng in China. It is a story of faith, identity, lovr and duty. I kept thinking how well Ms. Buck portrayed both Jewish and Chinese sentiment without judgement. She leaves it to the reader to form their own opinion. In the end how you feel about Peony, depends on your own bias. I'm still conflicted but I know she can't be the sole cause of the blame.

Another well written story of every day life in China. The surprising twist is this relati
May 15, 2017 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
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
Sallie Dunn
Feb 18, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Published in 1948, this historical novel tells the story of Peony, the beautiful servant girl to one of the last Jewish households in Kaifeng. Pearl Buck must have done her research, as it’s not widely known that there was a small Jewish population in the province of Henan since the Middle Ages. The story is set approximately 1850, by which time most of the Jewish families had intermarried with the Chinese to the point of the decline of their community. Peony is the bondservant in the Ho
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
Corinne Edwards
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
Jun 20, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The story takes place in Kaifeng, China around 1800 and centers on a Jewish family there. Yes, there was a small but dwindling Jewish population in that city (and several others), the descendants of traders who settled in a land where they did not face discrimination. As the years pass by, many intermarry and it is unclear whether they will survive as a separate group or will assimilate with their Chinese neighbors. The crux of the story is whether David, the son, will marry the rabbi's daughter ...more
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 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
Jun 24, 2011 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
Sarah H
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love "The Good Earth" and "Peony" was also a fascinating read. This is not easy-breezy reading and has some thought provoking themes. I even enjoyed the afterward- I had no idea about the history of Jewish settlements in China. ...more
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Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker Buck Walsh (Pearl S. 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 for ...more

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