Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And now to the other coast...

I was starting to feel like all I was reading were East Coast novels! I have been enjoying them very much (well some of them), but I am glad that the last two Canada Reads books are both B.C. authors. First up, Wayson Choy's Jade Peony.

Atlantic Canadian fiction definitely has some similar themes across the various novels I read: Allistair MacLeod, Michael Crummey and Anne-Marie MacDonald all wrote about family history, with plenty of mythology and folklore thrown in. Wayson Choy, in many ways, is the Vancouver version of these writers. Jade Peony tells the story of a Chinese-Canadian family during the 1930s and 1940s residing in Vancouver's Chinatown. The story is divided into three parts, each from the view point of one of the families children.

The first part, my favorite, tells the story of Jook-Liang. She is the only daughter and has to balance between her responsibilities as a girl in a traditional household and her love of Western culture (mostly, Shirley Temple). She befriends Wong Bak, a deformed elder and an unlikely and touching friendship blooms.

The second story is of the second brother Jung-Sum. He was adopted from another Chinese family when he was younger, although still has memories of his traumatic time with his biological family. Jung-Sum embraces the world of boxing, finding community at the gym.

The final story emerges as the Second World War approaches and the Chinese community begins to attempt to distance itself from the vilified Japanese. The world outside of the tight-knit Chinatown plays a much larger role in third brother Sekky's story. Sekky's world is divided between his attempts to overcome the illness he was plagued with early in life and his love of war games.

The folklore is brought into the novel through Poh-Poh, the children's elderly grandmother, who brings many Chinese traditions to their Canadian home. She firmly holds at least part of the household in the 'old' world, while the children try to find their way into the 'new.'

Wayson Choy is a lovely writer and I enjoyed reading Jade Peony. A very nice introduction to the West Coast. It is a tough race between Jade Peony and Nikolski for my Canada Reads vote.

- Katy

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