Saturday, July 02, 2016

Reader's Diary #1332- Wayson Choy: The Jade Peony

While reading Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony I found myself unable to shake a comparison to Marina Endicott's The Little Shadows. If you've read both, you may find this an odd comparison. Besides both being Canadian historical fiction, they have little else in common. The Little Shadows involves a white family traveling around the vaudeville circuit of the Western and Central U.S. and the prairie provinces in the years leading up to and including the first World War, while the former involves a Chinese-Canadian family of Vancouver in the 1930s leading up to and including the second World War.

However, it's the fact that both have slow, ill-defined plots that made me start comparing the two. And, problematically, I enjoyed Choy's book far more than Endicott's. I felt like a hypocrite and couldn't put my finger on why. The only thing I can figure is that Choy's was shorter and therefore gave me less time to grow bored and Choy's approach to showcasing characters was better suited to my tastes.

In The Little Shadows, Endicott alternated focus on the sisters throughout the entire book. I found myself confusing them and not really getting a sense of their different identities. Choy, on the other hand, has broken up The Jade Peony into three sections, each focusing on three siblings and I felt this gave them three distinct personalities.

I also found it compelling, yet very accurate in retrospect, the way the siblings grew up in the same household yet had very different experiences and interpretations. There was Liang, for instance, the only daughter who had to deal with the stress of a grandmother who made her feel lesser than her brothers simply for being female, which contrasts intriguingly with Sekky, the youngest son who idolizes his grandmother.

Of course, with a time and place and culture very different from my own, I was also fascinated with that aspect of The Jade Peony. Nonetheless, or perhaps owing to some of my fascination, I was able to find some similarities with my own upbringing. I too, for example, grew up close to my grandmother (who lived next door), but she was also a product of her time and culture and placed an unfair importance on males. There's a popular story we tell about her breaking down into tears when one of her sons had a daughter instead of a son.

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