A Mercy

Peony

by Pearl S. Buck

Gail Reid: I thought Judy's review of Peony, which I just c ompleted, was spot on. The novel offers insight into a rather obscure part of history: the story of 19th century Jews living in China. ALthough the Chinese bondsmaid Peony would never be accepted as a wife for the young master of a prosperous Jewish merchant household, she is beautiful and clever and plays a prominent role in the household for many years. Pearl Buck makes it clear that acceptance and assimilation of the Jews in China is in sharp contrast to other parts of the world where they are persecuted. Bothersome points include portrayal of Judaism as "dark", markedly different from the Chinese and their lightheartedness. The characters are well developed and the story is well-paced in spite of a hasty wrap-up of the later years.
Rating: ***

Judy Stanton: The subject of a Jewish community in ancient China sounded interesting and Pearl S. Buck did a good job of portraying characters with some depth. The story was not compelling to me, in parts, it felt like it was dragging, then wound up pretty quickly near the end. However, I did take away some interesting thoughts. One of her characters comments that the reason Jews are hated are because they set themselves apart from others and contend that they are God's chosen people. Likening this to a parent's "favorite" child taunting and upsetting siblings, was very insightful to me. I also thought about the story's message: that the Jewish community does better at surviving when they are not accepted by others; when they are accepted, such as they were in China, they become more quickly assimilated or acculturated. Interesting.
Rating: ***

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