"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 ghosts wander 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
Set in 17th-century China, See's fifth novel is a coming-of-age story, a ghost story, a family saga and a work of musical and social history. As Peony, the 15-year-old daughter of the wealthy Chen family, approaches an arranged marriage, she commits an unthinkable breach of etiquette when she accidentally comes upon a man who has entered the family garden. Unusually for a girl of her time, Peony has been educated and revels in studying The Peony Pavilion, a real opera published in 1598, as the repercussions of the meeting unfold. The novel's plot mirrors that of the opera, and eternal themes abound: an intelligent girl chafing against the restrictions of expected behavior; fiction's educative powers; the rocky path of love between lovers and in families. It figures into the plot that generations of young Chinese women, known as the lovesick maidens, became obsessed with The Peony Pavilion, and, in a Werther-like passion, many starved themselves to death. See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, etc.) offers meticulous depiction of women's roles in Qing and Ming dynasty China (including horrifying foot-binding scenes) and vivid descriptions of daily Qing life, festivals and rituals. Peony's vibrant voice, perfectly pitched between the novel's historical and passionate depths, carries her story beautifully--in life and afterlife. (July)
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Showing 1-4 of the 4 most recent reviews
1 . Wonderful look at star-crossed lovers
Posted January 16, 2010 by Meda Lubliner , West Hills, CALisa See provides the reader with a look into the lives of 17th Century Chinese women
What is unique about the story is that See tells the enduring love story embroidered with the beauty of the cultural mythology of the time. No apology is given for the belief in spells, ghosts, magical diagnosis and cures for they are all essential to the fabric of the characters. This book and "Snow Flower" are treasures.
2 . Creative Story Telling
Posted January 12, 2010 by Melanie , Maricopa, AZThis is my favorite Lisa See novel. I thought it was so creatively told. i l don't want to give the perspective from which it is told away. I loved the main character's struggle; and her being able to tell her story as she figures out her own story. For me, it was one of those books you don't want to put down; and if you do you keep thinking about it. This books ranks up there as one of my all time favorites. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is excellent too. Although, i like this one better. Both books are great at giving you an insight into Chinese culture and history.
3 . To whimsical for me
Posted September 28, 2009 by Sarah , TorontoIn a word, this book simply annoyed me. Perhaps it is because I also read Shanghai Girls and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan that I suddenly had my fill of footbinding horror stories and the subservience of women/their place in the world in Chinese culture. At first it was interesting but now, it just seems to drone on and on. I loved the other books I mentioned and Flower Net, also by See but this one just did not keep my interest and I really did not like, or feel any sympathy or connection to, Peony. So, if you're not up for a tedious read about whimsical ideas and the typical injustices of Chinese life, you might want to pass.
4 . Wonderful, Amazing.
Posted December 30, 2008 by Austin :] , USAThe book is amazing. Its a heartwarming love story of Peony. It took a while to get into to it, by after the first 30 or so pages its takes a surprising twist and the journey begins
June 25, 2007
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