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The Jade Peony

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  5,201 ratings  ·  332 reviews
"Beautifully written. . . . It renders a complex and complete human world, which by the end we have learned to love."
— The Boston Book Review

Chinatown, Vancouver, in the late 1930s and '40s provides the backdrop for this poignant first novel, told through the vivid reminiscences of the three younger children of an immigrant Chinese family. The siblings grapple with their i
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 17th 2007 by Other Press (first published January 1st 1995)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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 ·  5,201 ratings  ·  332 reviews

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Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
An easy and entertaining novel, if you’re interested in Chinese culture you’ll love this immigrant coming of age story. Wayson Choy transports you to Vancouver’s Chinatown circa 30’s - early 40’s up to the outbreak of WW2. He does a beautiful job portraying a Chinese-immigrant family, poignantly illustrated by the polar opposite personalities of grandmother Poh-Poh and her westernized grandchildren. Jook Liang the Shirley Temple wanna-bee; Jung-Sum the adopted boy struggling with his awakening h ...more
Alice Poon
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it

I found this short novel surprisingly touching. It tells what life in Chinatown Vancouver was like in the years leading up to the Second Sino-Japanese war (1937 – 1945) for a Chinese immigrant family, whose children were born on Canadian soil.

Seen through the eyes of three young children of this family, Liang (a girl), Jung (a boy) and Sekky (a boy), everyday life with all its joys, worries, cultural and language conflicts, juvenile mischief, generational squabbles and wistful homesickness emerg
The Jade Peony is about one of Vancouver's immigrant Chinese families—an elderly grandmother whose tales are of magic and ghosts and the customs, beliefs and traditions of Old China, the mother and father worrying about friends and family back in China and struggling to make ends meet, First Son following in the footsteps of his father, the adopted Second Son, Only Sister Liang and finally Third Son Sekky who is the youngest of the family.

The story is told by the three youngest children, each h
This one grew on me after I got used to its gentle, understated approach to coming-of-age issues in a Chinese immigrant family in Vancouver during in the 30’s. We get a sensitive and universal exploration of the challenges of growing up combined with a fresh children’s perspective on the conflicts between following traditions of their immigrant parents versus assimilation to Western culture in an urban multicultural society.

As in Kingsolver’s “Poisonwood Bible”, the novel uses the narrative appr
Mar 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Vancouver's Chinatown in the late 1930s and early 40s, The Jade Peony follows three children growing up in one family: Jook-Liang, the only sister; Jung-Sum, Second Brother and adopted; and Sek-Lung, Third Brother and sickly. This is a time when the Chinese who came to BC to work on the railway through the Rocky Mountains, paying the infamous Head Tax to do so, are the elders in the Chinatown society. Back home in China, the Japanese are steadily conquering land and reports of butchering ...more
Set in Vancouver, British Columbia, this novel follows four Chinese children and their experiences during World War II. I enjoyed this novel very much. Choy does a wonderful job relating the challenges Canadian born foreigners experienced during the war years.
Mar 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chinatown of the 1940's in Vancouver, three children of Chinese immigrant parents nurture dreams of making their own mark on the world around them. Jung-Sum is an adopted son who fights in the boxing ring and wrestles with uncertainty about his own sexual identity. Jook-Liang dreams of escaping the confines of tradition to become the next Shirley Temple, and Sekky, the youngest child, surprises the rest of the family with his own quiet wisdom." (Taken from the Editors).

As a born and bred Canadia
Jul 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Much to my delight, I was randomly assigned to read and defend Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony for a local Canada Reads gathering. It was meant to be: I had Wayson sign a copy of his 1995 novel for me just a few months ago when he was in Halifax for a reading of his most recent work, Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying, and The Jade Peony has for many years been high on my favourite books list.

The Jade Peony so eloquently combines the familiar with the unfamiliar. The universal themes of c
May 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Being an immigrant myself, who came to Canada in the '80's, I was interested in reading this book from a personal perspective. Choy paints a rather grim picture of Chinese immigrants in Canada in the 1930's: bachelor-men unable to bring their families across, deaths in labour camps built to construct the Canadian railway "from sea to shining sea", "resident alien" status with no hope of ultimate citizenship, second-class treatment during medical emergencies, immigrants relegated to ghettos (or C ...more
Nov 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
“Lyrical and moving” the opening words of the blurb for this book and I don’t think I can say it much better. This is one of those all too rare novels that truly transports you to another time and place, immerses you into a culture and a life experience that is far from your own. So much so that finishing it is rather a rude awakening.
The story is set in immigrant Vancouver, Chinatown in the 1940’s. In the family home of three generations of a Chinese family, we meet the matriarchal grandmother,
Allegra S
Apr 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Finally finished (dramatic ending!), but I still can't figure out what it is about this book - there is no high-suspense plot, no huge character dramas for the most part, no adventure or quest or conflict propelling the book, but I can't put it down! Really interesting cultural study, with great detail!

The first, and shortest, section with Liang is my favourite, the last one with Kiam was my second-favourite. I didn't like the Jung stories much.

I still wonder why did he leave out first brother K
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Meh-I’ve read worse, but there was no plot and the writing was stilted. Reminded me of “The House on Mango Street”-Vignettes of immigrant life that get bound up into a novel but is really just a batch of short stories about the same batch of people. I do appreciate the unflattering take on the Chinese community in Vancouver circa WWII-good to know Canadians dealt with some of the same things their southern neighbors dealt with-and might have done as crappy a job as we did:)
Feb 25, 2010 rated it did not like it

If your local library is ever selling about three boxes full of the same book for 10 cents a piece there is a reason. I thought this book would be at least semi-interesting because it takes place in Chinatown of Vancouver area which is familiar to me. That's some hours and ten cents of my life I'll never get back.
Laura Neufeld
May 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In a word: beautiful. I absolutely loved The Jade Peony. Wayson Choy (yay Canadian author!) tells the story of an immigrant Chinese family who come to Vancouver in the 1930s, as the conflict between Japan and China in the East, and Canada, Britain, et al and Germany in the West heats up.

I loved this book for many reasons. First and foremost, Choy writes stunningly. His prose is lyrical and the stories that he tells are deeply moving. The family's story is told through the perspectives of three
Jennifer G
Jun 10, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is written from the perspective of three Chinese-Canadian siblings during the 1930s and 1940s. I really enjoyed the first part of the book, from the perspective of the daughter. To me, it showcased the life of a Chinese daughter growing up in that time period and contrasted it with the life of a more desirable son.

I found the last two parts to be less interesting, and then ending wasn't really much of an ending.

Perhaps I am a bit more critical of this book as I have recently read some
It's more like a 3.5/5. The story moves slowly but really picks up at the end when (most of) it comes together. I found the three different perspectives to be a very effective way to tell the story. I would call it a quiet story where people have loud interiors, if that makes sense. I learned a lot about the Chinese Canadian experience from reading this, and it piqued my interest to learn more. ...more
Mar 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian-author
The story of an immigrant family during WWII in Chinatown, Vancouver, BC. Told through the eyes of three of the children. I enjoyed this book and found it an interesting perspective on how immigrants sometimes feel isolated and not an accepted part of their new Country.
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 14, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars :/

I was really excited about this book. It was covering a topic i never read in fiction and I’m always interested in reading canadian stories. But this novel felt unremarkable. I liked the first section with the only daughter and her relationship with the old man.... but even that one got repetitive, and kinda dragged on. Ugh, I’m really disappointed, I wanted to like it more
Nov 02, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian-author
The story of a Chinese immigrant family living in Vancouver in the 1930's leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbour. It is told from the point of view of each of the three youngest children who were born in Canada. The children are quite young as they tell their stories, and the language and point of view are reflective of that youth. ...more
Audrey Coughlan
This was a wonderful book. It opened a whole new view of the Chinese Canadian experience.

I plan to read his other books as soon as I can.
Tomiko Robson
Aug 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This has been on my “I should really read this pile” for a long time. I’m glad I finally got around to it. It’s a beautiful story.
Kevin Kindred
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a lovely book of connected short stories that immerses you perfectly into the complex world of Vancouver's Chinatown of the 1940s. Each of the "main" characters and the secondary characters contributes something unique to the reader's understanding of the Chinese-Canadian experience. Beautifully written. ...more
With his debut novel The Jade Peony, author Wayson Choy allows us a glimpse into the life of a Chinese immigrant family living in Vancouver’s Chinatown, spanning from the 1930s to the 1940s. The story is told through the perspective of three of the four children of that family – Jook-Liang, the only sister who curses the fact that she is regarded as useless because she is a girl and aspires to be an actress; Jung-Sum, the adopted brother who wants to be a professional boxer and struggles with h ...more
Tara Million
I had a hard time deciding whether to rate this one at 3 or 4, but finally settled on 3. I liked it but I didn't love it. I do think it's an interesting read though and I would recommend it to almost anyone.

The writing is lovely and I really enjoyed seeing some major Canadian historical events through the eyes of Chinese immigrants - railroad construction and the creation of Canada, changing policies around immigration, the Depression in the 30's, and the First World War in the 40's. The way the
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian
This book was heartbreaking and beautiful. It explores the complex family dynamics of an immigrant Chinese family in Vancouver. It's fascinating to think about how a lot of Chinese families in North America were actually "blended families" before that was a term. Due to the difficulties Chinese people had in immigrating to North America bc of anti-Asian sentiment, many people were "paper sons"--related to their sponsoring family only by thin lies and forged paperwork.

The book is broken up into
Sarah Pugh
Jul 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up only because I'd heard the author interviewed and I liked him. I'm glad I did, though - it's not a genre I've read much (immigrant CanLit) and I managed to avoid in in university, but since some of my husband's family are Chinese-Canadian I figured I probably had some obligation of some sort to read about their early experiences in this country.

It was actually a really, really good book. Told from the perspective of the family's children, it paints a narrow, focused picture
Feb 19, 2013 rated it liked it
There is much to say for this book about a family of Chinese immigrants living in pre-WWII Vancouver, BC. This historical novel partially filled in a gap for me of this time period and locality. It was interesting for me to read three different perspectives of the scene as told by each of 3 out 4 children (a sequel called All That Matters adds the voice of the fourth child, the oldest one and and the only one born in China). Anti-Japanese sentiment comes in loud and clear in the last part of the ...more
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm a sucker for happy endings and for stories that have a sense of finality to them. I can't really say that The Jade Peony offered these things but I'm strangely okay with that fact.

I found the three POVs unique and insightful and although some might not enjoy the ambiguous endings I think that that is the beauty of a story that continues to live on inside your mind once you've finished the book. There's a lot of tug-of-war going on inside the book; old and new, Chinese and Canadian, good guy
Mar 04, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't usually force myself to finish books, but I'm glad that I did in this case. The first half was sooo slow; nothing happened and the characters were just meh, although I did enjoy the Chinese words thrown in every now and then. I would read the words, hear them being said aloud in my head and then, ah yes, that glimmer of recognition. I know what this means! Yes... so obviously not everybody will have the same experience reading this (I like this aspect in Amy Tan's books too). The second ...more
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Born in Vancouver in 1939, Wayson Choy has spent much of his life engaged in teaching and writing in Toronto. Since 1967, he has been a professor at Humber College and also a faculty member of the Humber School for Writers. He has appeared in Unfolding the Butterfly, a full-length bio-documentary by Michael Glassbourg, and was recently a host on the co-produced China-Canada film In Search of Confu ...more

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