From the acclaimed author of Peach Blossom Pavilion comes a lush and lyrical novel of East and West--and of one young woman's search for her heart's true calling...
When twenty-year-old Meng Ning declares that she wants to be a Buddhist nun, her mother is aghast. In her eyes, a nun's life means only deprivation--"no freedom, no love, no meat." But to Meng Ning, it means the chance to control her own destiny, and to live in an oasis of music, art, and poetry far from her parents' unhappy union.
With an enigmatic nun known as Yi Kong, "Depending on Emptiness," as her mentor, Meng Ning spends the next ten years studying abroad, disdaining men, and preparing to enter the nunnery. Then, a fire breaks out at her Buddhist retreat, and Meng Ning is carried to safety by Michael Fuller, a young American doctor. The unprecedented physical contact stirs her curiosity. And as their tentative friendship grows intimate, Meng Ning realizes she must choose between the sensual and the spiritual life.
From the austere beauty of China's Buddhist temples to the whirlwind of Manhattan's social elite, and the brilliant bustle of Paris and Hong Kong, here is a novel of joy and heartbreak--and of the surprising paths that lead us where we most need to be.
Praise for Peach Blossom Pavilion
"Lovely and poignant...a novel of heartache, but also one of hope as the strong heroine never gives in." --Curled Up With A Good Book
"Beautiful and evocative, real and heart-wrenching...insightful and memorable." --Romantic Times
"A rare peek into an exotic culture that is thrilling, captivating, and moving." -Shobhan Bantwal
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Showing 1-2 of the 2 most recent reviews
1 . Only continued reading because i spent $9.
Posted May 16, 2010 by Felena , Okanagan CentreTerrible book. Characters were simplistic and predictable. Truely a romance novel - no substance. Kept hoping for something deeper but nothing developed. Do not waste your money.
2 . Buddist Love Story
Posted April 07, 2010 by Junie Moon , Dunedin, FLromance novels aren't usually my favorite genre. However, this novel had the interesting twist of being about a Buddist woman who must choose between becoming a nun or marrying the man she loves. The story takes place in several different places as the 2 lovers try to navigate the challenges of a long distance relationship. From New York to Beijing and back again the two dance through the twists and turns that finally culminate into their true karma. A nice little love story - especially for those interested in the Buddist faith.
February 22, 2010
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Excerpt from Petals From The Sky by Mingmei Yip
Mother choked and spilled her tea. "Ai-ya, what evil person has planted this crazy idea into your head?" I was twenty and had just told her my wish to become a Buddhist nun.
She stooped to wipe the stain from the floor, her waist disappearing into the fold of flesh around her middle. "Remember the daughter of your great-great-grandfather, who entered the nunnery because she was jilted by her fianc�? She had no face left; she had no name, no friends, no hair.
"She just sat the whole day like a statue; the only difference was she had a cushion to sit on. And she called that meditation." Mother looked me in the eye. "Is that the life you want? No freedom, no love, no meat?"
Before I could respond, she plunged on: "Meng Ning, there are only three reasons a girl wants to become a nun: before she meets the right man, after she has met the wrong one, or worse, after the right one has turned out to be the wrong one." Mother clicked her tongue and added, "Not until after you've tasted love, real love, then tell me again you want to be a nun."
That had been ten years ago, but my wish to be a nun had not faltered.
Not until 1987, on a hot summer day in a Buddhist retreat in Hong Kong.
I hopped off the bus on Lantau Island and walked toward the Fragrant Spirit Temple--the oldest in the colony. The path led up a hill beside a maze of crumbling monastery walls over which trees spilled out as if to taste the forbidden world outside.
As I joined the crowd hastening to get under the cool shade of the foliage, a plump, middle-aged woman caught up with me, panting and grinning.
"Miss, is this the route to the Fragrant Spirit Temple for the Seven-Day-Temporary-Leave-Home-Buddhist-Retreat?"
I nodded and gestured toward the throng. Two thick, round pillars flanked the temple's crimson gate. Above its lintel hung a wooden sign with four large, yellow, Chinese characters in ancient seal script: MARVELOUS SCENERY OF GREAT COMPASSION.
My heart raced. Within this gate for the next seven days, I would be tested for my karma to be, or not be, a Buddhist nun. At twenty, I had made up my mind to avoid the harassment of marriage. Now at thirty, I still couldn't decide whether to remain in the dusty world as a single career woman, or to enter the empty world as a career nun.
Why should I feel so nervous? After all, in the absolute sense, is there a difference between a shaved head and one with three-thousand- threads-of-trouble?
Gingerly, I stepped through the crowd into the temple's expansive lobby and a soothing aroma of jasmine incense. Activities were in full swing, with people assembling for the opening ceremony of the retreat. Electronic Buddhist music boomed from different corners of the two-hundred-year-old temple. I listened intently, seeking the music through layers of noise arising from gray-robed monks and nuns, black-robed workers, volunteers, and retreat participants. It was a synthesized version of the traditional Buddhist chant "Precious Incense Offered for Discipline and Meditation." My heart instantly warmed to the familiar tune that I'd heard so many times. However, I still preferred the human voice, even when sung from the wrinkled lips of old monks and nuns. I hurried to the end of a long, slowly moving queue.
A little ahead of me stood a thirtyish man with a robust frame and light hair--a foreigner. Surely a devout Buddhist to have come all the way here to join the retreat.
I flung back my hair, feeling dulled by the heat and hating the sticky feeling of my blouse pasted to my back, unwilling to let go.
Looking around, I saw a gilded Buddha statue on a tall table, hands in the abhaya and dana mudras--the have-no-fear and wish- granting gestures. Flowers, fruits, and thick incense sticks in bronze burners crowded the rosewood surface encircling the golden figure. Under Buddha's all-seeing gaze, an expensively dressed woman stuffed a pile of banknotes into the capacious belly of the gongde xiang--Merit Accumulating Box. How would she look if she shaved her head and wore a Buddhist robe?
"Looks very bad," my mother would say whenever she saw a nun. "Meng Ning, you're a very beautiful woman. Beautiful women deserve nice clothes, nice jewelry, and a nice husband."
Mother was born in the year of the cat. And like a cat, she was snobbish, sensitive, sensuous. In elementary school, she was so cute and petite that her classmates used to call her "Little Sweetie." Then she became "Coca-Cola" in high school. Of course Mother was sweet, bubbly, and as popular as Coke, but she'd told me what her classmates really meant was that her precocious body had the voluptuous shape of the soft-drink bottle.
Mother, beautiful in her youth, had a lot of nice jewelry and, according to her, a nice husband. But a miserable life. My father never bought Mother any of the jewelry; instead, he sold pieces of it so he could go to gambling houses to act like a big spender among the pretty hostesses who'd caress his face with one hand and rummage his pockets with the other. The jewelry came from my grandmother, a businesswoman in Taipei with a chain of jewelry stores.
My grandfather died young, leaving my grandmother with four bony kids and an empty stove. She used the jewelry repair skill she'd learned from Grandfather to obtain work as an apprentice in a small gold store. Later, she was able to start her own business, then expand. She had fourteen stores and more than two hundred employees before she died.
So during those years, the jewelry kept flowing like tap water into my mother's life. But when Grandmother and Father died, they left Mother and me penniless. Grandmother left nearly all her money to her three sons, in accordance with the old Chinese belief that if one left money to daughters, it would eventually be lost to another name. However, she didn't feel right leaving Mother nothing, so over the years she secretly sent Mother money and gave her part of her jewelry. But how would Grandmother feel if she could find out that not only had the jewelry not turned into food on our table, it had paid debts to the loan sharks?
Despite what Father had done, Mother's eyes would moisten and her voice soften when she talked about her first and only love. "Your father was a romantic man. In our age, people had arranged marriages, but we married for love."
Then she told me how Father had hidden a pistol in his pocket the night he proposed.
"Mei Lin"--he'd aimed the gun at his chest--"if you say no, I'll blow my heart out!"
He was gone, and Mother had been the one left with a shattered heart.
That pistol always seemed to me a symbol of my parents' marriage. It had never been fired, but was always there to suggest love, threat, and a bad choice. Their life had constantly shifted between passion and tension, with me squeezed between them like a cushion.
When I was ten, I came home one day and found my parents in a fight.
Mother wagged a finger at Father. "You're a good-for-nothing poet. I can't stand you anymore!"
My heart hurt to hear that. An unhappy marriage makes some women quiet and others garrulous; my mother was definitely among the latter.
"I can't afford you anymore, you spoiled baby!" Father retorted.
"Spoiled? Have you sold your poems or calligraphy to buy me clothes and jewelry?"
Father was speechless for a moment; then he jumped up from the sofa, grabbed me, and shook my arm.
"How did your daughter grow so big if I haven't paid for anything?"
"Do you really think you pay for her--"
Before Mother finished, Father let go of me and snatched my copy of Dream of the Red Chamber from the chipped coffee table. "Doesn't this dream cost money?" Then he threw the book down and seized Mother's TV magazines (we couldn't afford a TV). "Doesn't this gossip cost money?" He went on to grab the radio, the cracked teapot, my drawing book, my crayons, the day-old bread, asking the same question until he exhausted both the list and himself.
During their fight, I looked down at my feet so I didn't have to look at their unhappy faces. I imagined my right big toe was my father. The left big one was my mother. The rest were the brothers and sisters I'd never had.
The little toe on the right was chubby, so he was the chubby little brother who'd died three days after he was born. The little left toe was as small as a peanut, and that was me. It always made me sad to look at my two little toes so far from each other, like the unbridgeable distance between us. Would my little brother have lived if Father had stopped gambling?
When Father's and Mother's voices grew angrier, I moved my toes together as if they had stopped quarreling. Married life didn't appeal to me at all, not even when based on love. Perhaps a nun's life would be better. Later I thought so because of a secret I'd never told anyone since the day I fell into the well.