25 November 2009

Short Review: Peony in Love by Lisa See

Peony in Love by Lisa See is a lovely and haunting look at China in the seventeenth century. The publisher's summary for the book is quite long, but here is some of it:

“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. . . 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.
Here are my notes from early in 2008 (edited to avoid spoilers): "Wonderful tale of women's issues set in historical China and based on factual information. Peony wants to make something of her life and becomes obsessed with writing a critical assessment of an opera that carries her name: The Peony Pavilion. Through the course of the novel, Peony learns what it means to be a woman in China in her times, learns the true stories of her mother and grandmother, sees her father and grandfather in a new (and changing) light, and even comes to terms with her duties as a wife and sister wife. Peony's journey to become an ancestor will stay with me for a long time. Narrator Janet Song did a wonderful job with the Chinese words and accents, enhancing the novel."

If you haven't read Peony in Love or See's earlier Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, you don't know what you're missing. Highly recommended for anyone who loves historical fiction, books about women's issues, and books that transport you to other places, other times.

The cover is from the 2008 Random House edition. (Source: Bought; see review policy)

Peony in Love at Powell's
Peony in Love at Amazon
These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

Reading at the Beach is the host for this meme: Each week she invites us to spotlight a book whose title begins with the featured letter. This week it's P.


Molly 11/25/09, 6:41 AM  

This book sounds good!! You can drop by and see my "P" book if you would like!

Anonymous,  11/25/09, 8:00 AM  

I just read this book earlies this month--I enjoyed it even more than Snow Flower!

Jenn's Bookshelves 11/25/09, 8:19 AM  

I LOVED this book! I picked it up after reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. See is quite an amazing author.

Julie P. 11/25/09, 8:40 AM  

A lot of my friends didn't enjoy this one as much as SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN, but I thought it was extremely well-written and very interesting. Lisa See is an amazing author!

Irene 11/25/09, 9:04 AM  

I have not read a book from the China women'My "P" book is here.s perspective sounds good.

Sandy Nawrot 11/25/09, 9:19 AM  

China has such a rich history, and one that carries alot of controversy. I bet this story is fascinating, and one where you learn things, which is always nice.

JoAnn 11/25/09, 9:19 AM  

Loved Snow Flower...can't wait to read this, too!

Anonymous,  11/25/09, 9:31 AM  

Great "P"!

I'm putting this on my WL along with Snow Flower

Thanks for playing!

Unknown 11/25/09, 9:33 AM  

I still haven't read anything by Lisa See. I have Snow Flower here and hope to read it soon - I always fel as though I'm missing out.

Margot 11/25/09, 10:19 AM  

I've put Lisa See on my list of new authors to read this next year. This one looks like a good place to start. It also sounds like it might be a good fit for the Women Unbound Challenge.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) 11/25/09, 10:23 AM  

I think that this one might just be my favorite book by her. I was surprised tat I loved it so much because i was certainly bummed at the beginning.

Anonymous,  11/25/09, 10:53 AM  

Sounds like a fascinating book. I haven't read anything by Lisa See yet.

Beth 11/25/09, 1:07 PM  

I haven't read anything by Lisa See. Sounds interesting! My "P" book(s).

Joyful 11/25/09, 1:28 PM  

Sounds interesting. Never heard of them. Thanks

Anonymous,  11/25/09, 4:24 PM  

This is my favorite of her books. The ghost story was so unexpected and different...I just loved it.

me again 11/25/09, 5:01 PM  

This sounds wonderful! I have not read anything by this author but I think I'm missing something....onto my TBR pile!

I participated this week too. Here's my P book :-)


Melody 11/25/09, 6:53 PM  

I haven't read anything by this author yet, but I do have this book in my pile. I look forward to reading it after reading your review.

bermudaonion 11/25/09, 9:00 PM  

I've got Snow Flower, but haven't read it yet. I'm sure I'll look for this one once I do.

Nise' 11/25/09, 9:15 PM  

My mom keeps chastising me for not reading these books yet.

Esme 11/25/09, 11:44 PM  

I love Lisa See-have you read Shanghai Girls?

Meghan 11/26/09, 2:58 AM  

I'm glad you liked this book when you read it too! I wish I had kept reading notes before blogging - it would have been nicer to remember exactly what I thought of things. Oh well!

Veens 11/26/09, 5:36 AM  

Sounds like a great book. Don't you think this quolifies for the Women Unbound challenge, if u r doing that one :)

I think Lisa is an author to watch out for!

Jess - A Book Hoarder 11/26/09, 10:46 AM  

I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan a while ago and I loved it but for some reason I was never sure if I wanted to read Peony in Love. Thanks for the review, I will definitely check it out.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 11/27/09, 11:57 AM  

I loved SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN, but haven't gotten to PEONY IN LOVE ... I'll definitely read it in 2010, especially since it will tie in so well with Women Unbound. (and I've got SHANGHAI GIRLS on tour in early 2010 ... lots of Lisa See for me!)

Lisa 11/28/09, 12:55 AM  

I passed on this one last winter when Costco had a mountain of them but I kept buying other books. Looks like I made a mistake!

S. Krishna 12/2/09, 5:51 PM  

I read this book a long time ago and LOVED it. I just read Snow Flower this year.

Anonymous,  12/12/09, 11:14 PM  

loved this and plan to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan next.

Willow 12/20/23, 8:22 PM  

"Peony In Love" is one of my favorite books in the whole world, rated right between Marcel Proust's "In a Budding Grove" and Haruki Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore." I've used select passages in my A.P. Literature classes. Actually my sister from Santa Barbara turned me on to this treasure. The Best Present ever! The story reveals great heavenly secrets of Chinese spirituality and healing from the Ming dynasty. Immensely precious, revealing, feminine, transcendental. Beautiful masterpiece! Thank you

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