18 June 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Peony In Love by Lisa See


This was a hard one for me. I was enjoying it until about a third of the way through. You see, I didn’t actually READ the description, so what happened – well, I wasn’t expecting it and it made me so MAD. I literally slammed this book shut and stalked off. I felt cheated. In some ways, I think I still do. BUT the book is really very good. I learned a lot about Chinese culture and beliefs. I’ve always been drawn to “things” that are Chinese (I one day want to redo my living room with that influence, if I can talk the husband into it!). And while the historical fiction like this is not something I would have read before, I am really starting to enjoy some of it. The key for me is there has to be a good story to drag me in. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan didn’t disappoint and this one, in the end, didn’t either. A good read.


“I finally understand what the poets have written. In spring, moved to passion; in autumn only regret.”

For young Peony, betrothed to a suitor she has never met, these lyrics from The Peony Pavilion mirror her own longings. In the garden of the Chen Family Villa, amid the scent of ginger, green tea, and jasmine, a small theatrical troupe is performing scenes from this epic opera, a live spectacle few females have ever seen. Like the heroine in the drama, Peony is the cloistered daughter of a wealthy family, trapped like a good-luck cricket in a bamboo-and-lacquer cage. Though raised to be obedient, Peony has dreams of her own.

Peony’s mother is against her daughter’s attending the production: “Unmarried girls should not be seen in public.” But Peony’s father assures his wife that proprieties will be maintained, and that the women will watch the opera from behind a screen. Yet through its cracks, Peony catches sight of an elegant, handsome man with hair as black as a cave–and is immediately overcome with emotion.

So begins Peony’s unforgettable journey of love and destiny, desire and sorrow–as Lisa See’s haunting new novel, based on actual historical events, takes readers back to seventeenth-century China, after the Manchus seize power and the Ming dynasty is crushed.

Steeped in traditions and ritual, this story brings to life another time and place–even the intricate realm of the afterworld, with its protocols, pathways, and stages of existence, a vividly imagined place where one’s soul is divided into three, ancestors offer guidance, misdeeds are punished, and hungry ghostswander the earth. Immersed in the richness and magic of the Chinese vision of the afterlife, transcending even death, Peony in Love explores, beautifully, the many manifestations of love. Ultimately, Lisa See’s new novel addresses universal themes: the bonds of friendship, the power of words, and the age-old desire of women to be heard.

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