The Jade Peony

By Wayson Choy

As part of the reading for my local library book club, we read the lovely, poignant story of The Jade Peony, by Wayson Choy. Set in Vancouver’s Chinatown of the 1930s and 40s, we see a Chinese family struggle to survive, through the eyes of three of the children. Each has a unique role in the family and a different perspective. As the story progresses, and we move from one child's narrative to the next, we see the family change and adapt and eventually face the consequences of war and its very real and personal effects here at home. The story is told with great tenderness for all the characters and I loved it very much the first time I read it.

I read it again for the book club and it was the second reading for many in the group as well. I still loved it, but it’s a very different experience to read a book for your book club rather than simply reading on your own, especially if you’re lucky enough (as I am) to belong to one with people who not only love to read, but who have opinions and love to voice them! Reading on our own is a very solitary, introspective endeavour. We read, we might ponder a bit, depending on the book, then we move on to the next. But in a book club, reading becomes a dynamic activity. There is heated debate, there is argument, you have to back up your ideas, you sometimes have to fight to have your turn to talk, people agree strongly about some things, and disagree vehemently on others; one or two pick up on something they felt was significant that others have totally missed and now want to go back and find that passage to verify; an inference is made which some agree with and others think is a bit farfetched… It is a lively two hours of discussion, discovery, laughter, disagreement, reading aloud, surprise, and sometimes very strong feelings. Our bond is the love of reading, but we represent different ages and stages in life, different types of careers (nursing, teaching, business, editing…) and several cultures and countries. Each one of us brings a unique perspective to the table and adds to the richness to be gained from the book.

Most of us liked the book very much, for various reasons: learning something about the Chinese culture; seeing the world from a child’s perspective; strong characterization; beautiful language; learning some history through fiction rather than non-fiction. We all agreed that although the book is set more than 70 years ago, about a culture that is different from most of us there that day, many of the ideas that Choy explores are universal. Family loyalty, racial prejudice, fitting in, and the role of women in society are as relevant today as they were then. He shows us how much we are the same, despite our differences.

Each month this book club reads and discusses a work of fiction (usually). We vote on the selection of books for the coming year and are quite honest in our thoughts about the book. By-and-large, it is a generous, forthright group of people who are not afraid to share their ideas and to perhaps learn something in the process. I count myself very fortunate to be a part of such a lively, intelligent community of readers and look forward to the next discussion.

November’s selection: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.


  1. Your book club sounds amazing! I've tried out one or two, but none have gotten to this level of discussion.

    I have a book I'd like to submit to you for possible review: "Windfall Nights" by William Claypool. It's a well-written story about two men who came to know each other as very young adults in an unlikely place: working at a hotel, when they both should have been in college or doing something much grander with their lives, but because of personal circumstances, were unable to do much for the moment except pull back and lick their wounds.

    Please let me know if I send you a copy for possible review. I could even send a copy for each person in your book club! I'm at cdashnaw(at)bohlsenpr(dot)com.