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Peony in Love: A Novel by Lisa See
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Peony in Love: A Novel (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Lisa See

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2,5871282,310 (3.58)193
Member:RhodaRamonaBeans
Title:Peony in Love: A Novel
Authors:Lisa See
Info:Random House (2007), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
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Peony in Love by Lisa See (2007)

  1. 51
    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel by Lisa See (emib, mcdougaldd)
    mcdougaldd: Both are about women's roles in 17th century China. The author is very good at describing the times and attitudes.
  2. 41
    Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (leahsimone)
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    Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (leahsimone)
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    The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: Different premise but makes use of what happens to souls in the afterlife
  6. 21
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  8. 11
    Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: Ghosts reach into our world to complete tasks left undone
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» See also 193 mentions

English (127)  German (1)  All languages (128)
Showing 1-5 of 127 (next | show all)
What a strange and compelling book. I read it in one day, practically in one sitting. It all had a slow and dream-like quality, which is understandable because the narrator dies and tells most of the story from the afterlife. I think readers expecting the pacing of a traditional novel will be disappointed by Peony’s protracted journey to enlightenment. What kept me reading were the vivid descriptions of daily life, beliefs, and rituals in seventeenth century China. Just fascinating. Warning: There is a horrifying foot-binding scene that made a couple of the characters vomit, and I wanted to also. ( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
  nordie | Feb 27, 2016 |
The story opens with 16 year old Peony and her household preparing for a performance of the opera “The Peony Pavilion” which her father has staged and directed at great expense. Visitors have arrived and there is much excitement. The opera is performed over the course of several days, and the young unmarried women are permitted to view it only from behind a screen, because it would be improper for a man outside of their immediate families to see them.
Peony, an only child, is educated and well loved, unlike many ‘useless’ girls of her time. She is lovely with her tiny bound feet and delicate lily gait. She has studied the opera, considered a danger by some, and has many opinions and feelings about it. Through the screen she can see some of the guests and a section of the stage. She glimpses a handsome young man in the audience and, during a particularly poignant scene, is overcome with emotion and needs to move about. Quite by accident, she encounters this young man (a sensitive poet who was also moved by the scene) in a courtyard of her home. Ashamed at being seen yet drawn to him, they have a few moments together boldly speaking about the opera.
Peony finds a way to meet this young man twice more. Her mother discovers she has been out, and fearing the appearance of impropriety, banishes the betrothed Peony to her room. Though she never learns the poet’s name, Peony becomes obsessed with the idea of him. Her father has already arranged a marriage for her but she is lovesick for her poet, consumed by thoughts of him and wishing to marry him. Ever the dutiful daughter, she continues to prepare for her marriage but also begins a project based on The Peony Pavilion, obsessively recording her thoughts on love in the margins. She starts refusing food and ignores the advice of her doctors. Her mother, alarmed and desperate to make Peony well again, burns every edition of The Peony Pavilion that she can find in a vain attempt to shock Peony back into health. By the time Peony realizes she has made a horrible mistake about her sensitive poet, she is on her deathbed and it is too late.

But that is just the beginning of this love story. Peony learns about yearning and romantic love as a young girl; she later discovers physical love as a hungry ghost, and ‘deep heart’ love as a sister-wife in the afterworld. She finds a way to make her voice heard and to live on even after death.

The novel is rich with tradition and history, the portrayal of seventeenth century China so detailed and vivid. There is so much to learn here, such as the closeting of young girls. Peony has never been outside of her family compound/estate in all of her fifteen and sixteen years and rarely is she allowed outside. When she witnesses the play with her cousins, they are secluded behind screens so that they cannot be seen by any men. There are very, very vivid descriptions of the process in which footbinding is achieved. It is an absolutely horrific thing to read about and I actually felt quite ill after reading the descriptions of how it happens and the bones that need to break and the effects of the tight bindings and the agony through which the girls go through to achieve this desirable look. They are small girls when the process starts and the pain is terrible and lasts for a long time.

Peony In Love is also filled with the spiritual beliefs of China of the time and I had no idea that these beliefs existed. The rules for after death seem almost as strict and multi-layered as they were in life and the Chinese were deeply respectful to their dead ancestors, making offerings to them on a frequent basis so that they would be benevolent to them from the after world and so that they would never go hungry, without clothes or possessions, etc. They also were respectful of the people whose bodies had not been prepared in the proper way post death for their journey into the spirit world (named hungry ghosts) with a specific time when they leave offerings for them as well.

Not just a story of a teenager in love, Peony In Love was a fascinating look at historical China – the beliefs, the family and social structures, the customs, the rituals that made up the culture. Steeped in real life event and folklore, the novel gives a broad experience of the era, the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the rise of the Manchus. ( )
  AlexisLovesBooks | Feb 9, 2016 |
http://r-for-rocket.blogspot.com/2016/02/january-wrap-up.html

*** SPOILER FOR PART I ***

A historical fiction novel set in 17th-century, early Qing dynasty China. Peony of this novel and her successors are loosely based on the three wives of The Three Wives’ Commentary and Peony specifically parallels the play The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu. Peony is obsessed with the drama and after meeting and falling in love with a young man during a performance at her family’s estate but knowing she must enter into an arranged marriage in a few months she retreats far into herself to write a commentary on her copy of the play. It’s an all-consuming project and Peony in her delusion begins refusing all food without ever realizing she is starving to death. This seems like a spoiler but trust me, you see it coming a mile away. The rest of the novel is from Peony’s point of view in the afterlife.

This was a hard one to rate for me. I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and would definitely recommend this one to other fans of that novel but I also had some issues. I mean, starving to death sort-of-but-not-really-on-accident out of lovesickness? I had to take a break after the first part of the novel because, as I put it to my fiance, I was mad at it and needed time to cool off. There were even more infuriating bits to this but I don’t want to spoil too much. Just… ugh, her death was so pointless. BUT when you’re done being pissed you get to race through the rest of the novel and learn lots of cool things about “hungry ghosts” and other Chinese funerary beliefs. I didn’t like this nearly as much as Snow Flower and Peony pulls some more questionable stunts (the first phrase I wanted to use was far less polite) but she does eventually grow as a person -- years after her death. This was still a page-turner and a fascinating look at parts of historical Chinese culture and the women of that place and time period. I’m not very familiar with Chinese culture in general and Lisa See has a way of making one very interested in reading more about it. ( )
  parasolofdoom | Feb 6, 2016 |
Depiction of what life was like for Chinese women is interesting. The depiction of Chinese rituals following death and their view of the afterlife is also interesting. ( )
  Cricket856 | Jan 25, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 127 (next | show all)
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For BOB LOOMIS, in celebration of his fifty years at Random House
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Two days before my sixteenth birthday, I woke up so early that my maid was still asleep on the floor at the foot of my bed.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812975227, Paperback)

“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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:04 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In seventeenth-century China, three women become emotionally involved with "The Peony Pavilion," a famed opera rumored to cause lovesickness and even death.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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