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Peony in Love: A Novel by Lisa See

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

by Lisa See

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2,4921172,447 (3.57)192
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)

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  1. 51
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» See also 192 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 117 (next | show all)
Back in 2008, I read Lisa See’s interesting novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The story, set in China, thoroughly examined the role and treatment of women in 19th century China. I had a vague notion of “foot binding” but no detailed information. After Googling images, I was horrified. When a book club member suggested See’s 2007 novel, Peony in Love, I winced just a little. This time the author sets her story in 17th century China. Embedded amongst all the feet, the I discovered a love story like no other I have ever read. I forgot the feet and switched to the heart.

The Organization of Chinese American Women named Lisa See the 2001 National Woman of the Year. She has written several novels, all of which revolve around lost or covered up stories and the relationships among women.

Peony is a young girl of about 15 – only weeks away from her marriage to the son of a moderately well-off family. Peony has never seen her intended, but at an intermission in an opera, The Peony Pavilion, she steps out and meets a handsome young man and immediately falls in love. As her wedding approaches, she fears a wizened old man would be her husband. She pines for her mysterious young man to the point of starvation and exhaustion.

The array of unusual customs and habits of the period staggers the imagination. After a meal, Peony hears a drum and cymbals calling the women to the garden. Peony is first out the door. See writes, “I needed to proceed cautiously, fully aware that men who were not family members stood within our walls tonight. If one of them should chance to see me, I would be blamed and a bad mark set against my character” (9). Hard for us to grasp such a mindset in today’s society.

In addition to other men, Peony has a deep and abiding commitment to respect and honor her father. See writes, Peony ‘had lived fifteen years without having committed a single act that anyone in my family could call unfilial” (11). Peony becomes a writer, commenting on the opera she has seen. He father gives her a present. “He went to a camphor-wood chest, opened it and pulled out something wrapped in purple silk woven in a pattern of willow. When he handed it to me, I knew it was a book. […] I loved books. I loved the weight of them in my hands. I loved the smell of ink and the feel of the rice paper. ‘Don’t fold over the edges of the page to mark your place,’ my father reminded me. ‘Don’t scratch at the written characters with your fingernails. Don’t wet your finger with your tongue before turning the pages. An never use a book as a pillow” (25). A wise man indeed.

I did see one anachronism, which I always enjoy finding in novels. Peony mentions “Piles of fruit […] in cloisonné dishes” (52). While the Chinese did produce dishes with pieces of metal that pooled glaze of a certain color, the term, cloisonné first appeared in French in 1863. Peony could not have known that word, which means “compartment.”

As a note in the front of the novel explains, the opera, The Peony Pavilion, was first produced and published in 1598. See based Peony on Chen Tong born about 1649. The Three Wives Commentary on the opera, became the first book of its kind written and published by women anywhere in the world. The factual basis for this story makes it all the more horrific and wonderful. Lisa See’s Peony in Love, is a wonderful historical novel, which opens windows on a secretive and hidden period in Chinese history. See has several other novels, and I think I hear them calling from my PC. 5 stars

--Jim, 5/1/15 ( )
  rmckeown | May 9, 2015 |
Picked up at a thrift store to bookcross and share. Trade paperback with bent corner from careless shelver.
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
Peony is a young girl growing up in the sequestered world of her father's house in 17th century China. On her 16th birthday her father arranges for her to see a performance of her favorite play the Peony Pavilion. It is a controversial play because its subject is a young woman who chooses her own course in love.

Peony is inspired by the play's movements because she also longs to make her own love choices. She is shortly to be married to a man that she has never seen or met. Then something amazing happens: she meets a stranger in her father's garden. Both she and the young man have stepped away from the performance and they continue to meet in secret to discuss their personal thoughts on the play. Peony is in love, but cannot be with her chosen one. Love and obsession consume her.

This is unlike any love story I have ever read. Everyone agrees that death cannot stop love, but this novel actually takes us into the afterlife. We are plunged deep into the world of ghosts, where feelings in life are even stronger and more ravenous. A beautiful story about love, feminine strength, and the deep relationships maintained between mother and daughter. ( )
  Juva | Apr 7, 2015 |
I almost didn't finish this book; the first part was really tough to get through. I was surprised because I like Lisa See. I read a few other reviews to see if my judgment was way off the mark, and several others commented that it got much better after part 2. I completely agree with that - it was almost as if another author wrote the first part.

I'm glad I stuck with it though. The novel as a whole was a very informative review of ancient Chinese culture and told in a very refreshing manner. I enjoyed it. ( )
  carebear10712 | Dec 31, 2014 |
Peony in Love is one of my favorite novels of the last decade. It’s a poetic, beautifully written journey; a Chinese ghost story that draws you past the thin veil between life and death into the Chinese culture of ghosts. With passions that transcend time and death, Peony in Love is poetry. I was sad when I finished it because I didn’t want to leave the story. ( )
  mindyshalleck | Oct 29, 2014 |
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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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