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The Jade Peony


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Told through the eyes of three Chinese Canadian siblings, Choy's first novel gives readers a historical glimpse at life in Vancouver's Chinatown during the 1930s and 1940s. Jook-Liang, the only sister in a family of three boys; Jung-Sum, the second adopted son; and Sek-Lung (Sekky), the sickly youngest son are searching for their identities, each presenting a moving account of love and loss that combine to tell the story of their family. Although Choy's work is fictional, it realistically echoes the difficult life struggles of early Chinese Cantonese immigrants as captured in such biographical works as Denise Chong's The Concubine's Children (LJ 11/15/94) and Ben Fong-Torres's The Rice Room (LJ 4/1/94). This book was a number-one best seller in Canada and co-winner of the Trillum Prize for the best book of 1995. Highly recommended for medium and large fiction collections.‘Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L.., Garden Grove, Cal.

"Beautifully written.... It renders a complex and complete human world, which by the end we have learned to love." - The Boston Book Review"

Choy's first novel, a bestseller in Canada, where it won the 1995 Trillium Award, is related by three young siblings who tell of their family's move from China to Vancouver's Chinatown in the 1930s. Cherishing yet bridling against the customs of their elders like Poh-Poh, the matriarchal grandmother who insists that they call their birth mother (their father's concubine) "Stepmother," Jook-Liang, her adopted younger brother, Jung-Sum, and youngest brother, Sek-Lung, struggle to adjust to their uneasily hyphenated Chinese-Canadian lives. Divided into three parts, the novel describes the formation of each child's identity. Jook-Liang, declared a "useless" girl-child by Poh-Poh, aspires to tap dance like Shirley Temple and to otherwise thrive in her new home. Yet she is enthralled by her grandmother's folk tales and her beautiful "Old China" ways. Jung-Sum tries to vanquish the demons of his past by boxing, even as he discovers a disturbing sexual attraction to a male friend. Frail Sekky helps the family heal after the death of Poh-Poh, who was their vital link to the past and the spiritual center of the family. Choy, who teaches English at Humber College in Toronto, adds a heartfelt, beautifully expressed new voice to the growing literature of the Chinese immigrant experience. Readers, however, will wish that he had developed each sibling's destiny further. Did Jung-Sum, for instance, ever express his homosexuality? Perhaps we will find out in a sequel. Meanwhile, Choy's three children, and the details of their lives in the New World, stand for the universal immigrant experience and aren't easily forgotten. (May)

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