Pearl Buck is probably one of my favorite writers. I found her book Imperial Woman in my school’s library and devoured it. One of those “didn’t sleep until I finished the whole book” sort of reads. I’ve scoured used book stores for years and anytime I find a Pearl S. Buck book, I buy it. I don’t even bother reading the dust jacket first.
Peony is a story of a chinese servant in a province of southern china living in a JEWISH household. Did you know during the diaspora some Jews landed in China? Did you know when Marco Polo went there he found out about them? Did you know that when Europeans started going to China they found out there was a Jewish population in China.
This is why I love Mrs. Buck (who is BTW – a Noble Prize winning author). As the child of missionaries, she grew up in China in the early 1900s (well before the revolutions) she had a unique view of China. And when she wrote about the Chinese, it’s very in-depth and sympathetic. When I read her books, I always learn something. Sometimes it’s a little thing, sometimes its a greater understanding.
Peony (as a bond servant) doesn’t understand the customs of her master’s house. She follows rules like not serving them pork fat-cooked foods. She senses the contention of “a people apart” but in a pretty non-sympathetic way. She wants them to integrate “for their own good and happiness.” It is a fascinating read into how the best of intentions can be awful. Everyone is pretty damn sympathetic and there isn’t a “villain” per say – but at one point or another I disliked everyone because they were being selfish or closed-minded or…. human.
It’s a rare author who can encapsulate a person’s life in a single book, but Pearl S. Buck has a talent to do so. To zoom in on important moments but to zoom back out to move the story forward sometimes years in a few lines. I don’t feel like I lost anything of those years, and then we zoomed back in to the right depth to see where the people are, zoomed closer when some turn-point is happening, and zoom back out smoothly. Seriously, movie directors could learn from Buck.
I give Peony a solid 5/5 – everyone should read this. It is familiar and foreign. It real in ways that fiction is at its very best.