Wayson Choy's poignant, award-winning debut novel, The Jade Peony,
is told from the point of view of three siblings who come of age in
Vancouver's Chinatown during the Depression and war years.
Jook-Liang, the family's only girl, and her brothers Jung-Sum and
Sek-Lung (nicknamed Sekky) were all born in Canada, but their parents
and the rest of the family are recent immigrants. The children grow up
torn between the reality of their lives outside the family circle and
the old-world traditions that prevail at home.
The children are drawn to figures from North American popular
culture, from cowboys to Shirley Temple, but they're also captivated by
the magical stories told by Poh-Poh, their grandmother. Her mythic tales
feature ghosts, dragons and characters from Chinese folklore such as
the Monkey King and the scary Fox Lady.
The three have very different experiences of life in their family and
the world at large. Sekky, the youngest, witnesses a love affair
between his Chinese-Canadian babysitter and a young man of Japanese
heritage, which plays out against the backdrop of the racism that
flourished during the Second World War.
The Jade Peony is a sensitive depiction of the collision
between cultures that all newcomers experience -- and the conflicts
within families that can arise as a result. It's also a vivid evocation
of the division between the world of adults and the world of childhood,
rendered with insight, humour and grace.
Wayson Choy's tale began life as a short story of the same name,
which was widely anthologized in Canada and the U.S. after its
publication in 1979. The novel, published in 1995, won both Ontario's
Trillium Book Award and the City of Vancouver Book Award and garnered
glowing reviews at home and abroad.