Monday, July 25, 2011

5th Annual Canadian Book Challenge Review #3: The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

By reading The Jade Peony, I realized that Wayson Choy and I have something in common: We both believe that family is about people who love you. Hopefully, this love is provided to us by our relatives, but if not, then we must go looking for it elsewhere. In various ways, that is exactly what each of the three children in this novel - Sook-Liang, Jung-Sum, and Sek-Lung - must do, in the politically and socially uncertain setting of Chinatown during the 30's and 40's. These children may live in the same home, but the families they form are very different. Sook-Liang must look outside her home for an ally - which comes in the form of the elderly and friendly Wong Suk - because of the neglect that she faces as a girl, Jung-Sum must adapt to life as an adopted child after the suspicious deaths of his parents, and Sek-Lung must turn chiefly to his paternal grandmother for support after his mother shuns him for, in her words, "having no brain." Love isn't completely absent from their home, of course, but it is overshadowed by questions of identity and loyalty that have no easy answers. Sometimes these questions take amusing turns, like Sek-Lung's extensive discussion of how and why Chinese forms of address drive him crazy. Others, such as one young Chinese-Canadian woman's secret romance with a young Japanese-Canadian man in the wake of Pearl Harbor, are much darker, and force readers to recall the limitations and inner turmoil that many people have historically faced - and still do face - when it comes to love.

This book serves as an important reminder for each and every one of us. The family that you are born into is not the only one that matters; the family that you build is just as important. This lesson is what made Wayson Choy's approach to a favourite genre of mine - the family saga - so captivating.

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