Author: Pearl S. Buck
Subtitle: A Novel of China
Publisher: Open Road
Place: New York
Nothing can substitute the calm, soothing voice of Pearl S. Buck's works for me and though 'Peony' didn't live up to the expectations, it is still an amazing story of devotion and love. Buck's stories are far from being ordinary, but her elegant narrations keep down the heart beats even at the most thrilling moments giving the impression that this too will pass.
Like all her other works, this is another testimony of the Chinese culture, a valid example of the difference in perspectives when it comes to Jews. While half of the world butchered them mercilessly, the lightheartedness of Chinese ways found another solution and as the author informs us in foreword "today even the memory of their origin is gone. They are Chinese". They say the best way to eliminate your enemies is to make them your friends, and Chinese used the same approach; they transformed the foreigners to natives.
Novel is set in the city of Kaifeng which was once a centre of Chinese Jews who are now gradually getting disappeared by being assimilated to the local culture. Peony is a Chinese bondmaid in the prominent Jewish family of Ezra ben Israel. As a kid she is bought from the slave market as a playmate for Ezra's son David and thus they grew up together.
Though she loved David dearly, her circumstances demanded them to stay apart as she is just a bondmaid and David never realised the full extend of his love to his playmate and constant companion. He is to be married to Leah, the daughter of the Rabbi, as per his mother's wishes but he also had a secret crush on pretty Kueilan, daughter of the Chinese merchant Kung Chen.
Fearing Leah's staunch religious beliefs which may further alienate the family from Chinese society, Peony encouraged his love towards Kueilan. David was also confused about the treatment his people receive in other parts of the world and found the answer from his father's wise friend that this occurred due to her separatist ideology. His attitude irritated Leah and in a fit of anger she attacked David with a sword. When he fell down wounded, she realising her mistake cut her own throat.
David recovered and eventually married Kueilan with the blessing of his parents. But after his mother's death he became restless again and to remedy this he traveled to Peking, the new imperial city, with his wife, sons and Peony. While they were visiting the Empress, Peony is noticed by the lusty Chief Steward and he offered to buy for one of the ladies of the court. Without replying to his proposal David and his retinue soon traveled back home. He started realising his love for Peony but as a Jew he was not allowed to take a concubine and Peony comprehended this predicament.
Something to ponder . . .
"A man's wife is his ruler, whether he likes her or not." - 91
"To hate another human being is to take a worm into one's own vitals. It consumes life." - 111
"When foreigners come into a nation, the best way is to make them no longer foreign. That is to say, let us marry our young together and let there be children. War is costly, love is cheap". - 112
"None on earth can love those who declare that they alone are the sons of god" - 166
"Some love a human being too well and are made subject by that love; others love their gods too wel and are subject to that love. Man should be subject to none. Then we are free." - 185