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Wayson Choy takes us inside the world of The Jade Peony

In The Jade Peony, the little girl known as Only Sister, Jook-Liang, struggles to tell me of her bond with the elderly crippled gentleman the citizens of Chinatown called the Monkey-Man. Jung-Sum, Second Brother, would only speak to me of his painful past, his gradual sexual awakening, reluctantly. And the youngest in the family, Sek-Lung, Third Brother, wiggled to life from a baby to a young boy insisting on his version of family, of war and ghosts, and of his confronting the inevitable and even the tragic deaths of loved ones.

The three children were not always willing to speak up. By the last page, I had hoped that "Chinatown" itself, the setting for these interconnected stories, would seem to be as alive as any character in my work.

From Vancouver's Old Chinatown of the 1930s and '40s, where laundrymen and Chinese restaurant workers, "slant-eyes" and "chinky-chinky Chinamen" lived in mysterious alleyways and shabby rooming houses, I had hoped to create a universe where unfamiliar language and odd, even scary, customs, would feel familiar, even to readers who knew nothing of that terrifying period when the whole world imploded.

The children of this book are vulnerable as any children caught up in hostile circumstances — racist, abusive or poor. Their lives, like all lives, are both painful and joyful, both comic and tragic. I want my stories to build a bridge between the strange and the familiar. I wanted these children to make readers of The Jade Peony more fellow citizens to each other than foreigners.


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