The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy Book Review
I was intrigued by the character development, different perspectives and conflicts of Wayson Choy’s heart-wrenching story, The Jade Peony. It revolves around the struggles of assimilation into a new country and showcasing the pure bond between grandmother and grandson. Sek-Leung is the protagonist, a little boy who is the youngest in his family. “I am too stubborn. The only cure for old age is to die.” mutters Sek-Leung’s grandmother. It’s a phrase that sets the tone for the narrative, as it shows his grandmother coming to terms with what’s inevitable. But before this, we’re able to look in the past and see the relationship develop between Sek-Leung and his grandma. Nobody understood them, not even their very own family. Choy introduces one of the main conflicts in the story, by having Kiam, Sek-Leung’s older brother say, “We are not poor, yet she and Sek-Leung poke through those awful things as if they were beggars!”. Kiam’s statement and perception of them really irritates me, as it’s something I’d never say to anyone; let alone my family. His inability to understand or accept the traditions of his grandmother causes me to question, why is that? Did he not recognize that relocating to a whole different country was burdensome? Let alone expecting her to immediately adopt Canadian practices. Nonetheless, I still adored both the implicit and explicit ideas the writer was able to incorporate. An example of this was how Choy was able to create a sentimental story displaying the character development of Sek-Leung. In the beginning, Choy chose to exhibit the traits of submissiveness in him, as if he was just this impressionable, innocent boy. But slowly Sek-Leung had to face the hardships that came with death. With the passing of his grandmother, he felt first hand the searing pain of loss and devastation.
I enjoyed the sincere connection that Choy was able to develop between Sek-Leung and his grandmother prior to her passing. Through Sek-Leung’s perspective, I was able to see the similarities between the two of them and her unselfishness to console him even when she was in pain. This resonated with me because I understand how difficult it is to try and comfort someone in a time when you’re suffering as well. Throughout the story, Sek-Leung’s grandmother sugarcoated her agony through superstitious lines such as “My spirit will hear its sounds and see its light and return to this house and say goodbye to you”. This proves that she was explicitly trying to reassure and prepare him for life without her. Although it is tragic, I valued how she took those things into consideration and it made me feel even more sorrowful. This story gave me the impression that an implied message Choy was trying to express was that Sek-Leung’s grandmother was always solicitous of his welfare. She did what she could to make the most out of her time by sharing her memories, showing him how to make her sacred wind chimes, and by leaving him her prized possession; the jade amulet. It not only symbolized their bond and love, but was also a reminder of her Chinese heritage. I believe that everything happens for a reason and I’m confident that this experience only made Sek-Leung more resilient. However, something that I wish Choy included was a complete ending for Sek-Leung’s siblings. Kiam was basically portrayed as the embodiment of negativity, but with the passing of his grandmother, did that change anything? Was his character able to reflect on his past decisions and possibly acknowledge moments when he was in the wrong? If these questions were answered, I feel like it would’ve given the story a more unified and complete conclusion.
The painful struggles that Sek-Leung’s family went through evokes my similar, if not identical, past experiences. I’ve had to deal with the loss of my father, feeling like an outcast, and constantly being afraid of what others would think about my Chinese traditions. I appreciate the fact that Choy didn’t shy away from portraying the harsh reality of being an immigrant. It is a pivotal message that I find is rarely brought up in mainstream media, stories, or in general. He sheds light on Sek-Leung’s family attempting to retain their old life while adjusting to their new norms. It’s a plotline that I can really relate to, as my grandparents have told me countless stories about how difficult it was for my parents to immigrate here. They did it just so that they could give both my sister and I a better life and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for. Furthermore, I truthfully valued his portrayal of Sek-Leung’s grandmother, as she reminds me a lot of my own. At first glance, Sek-Leung’s grandma is perceived as eccentric, her only desire being to hold onto ancient traditions. However, when I get more insight about her personality and history, I realize that she’s much more than that. The Jade Peony is an evocative story that allows me to recognize how fortunate I am to have strong bonds with my loved ones, and a reminder to cherish the time I have with my family.