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Peony in Love (2007)

by Lisa See

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,1871453,945 (3.57)208
Peony is the cloistered daughter of a wealthy family is 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, a small theatrical troupe is performing scenes from this epic opera. Peony attends the production, watching from behind a screen, but catches sight of a handsome man and begins a journey of love and sorrow.… (more)
  1. 51
    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan 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)
  3. 41
    Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (leahsimone)
  4. 20
    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
  5. 21
    The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (leahsimone)
  6. 11
    Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: Ghosts reach into our world to complete tasks left undone
  7. 00
    The Secrets of Jin-shei by Alma Alexander (Yorkist)
  8. 00
    The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (library_gal)

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» See also 208 mentions

English (144)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (147)
Showing 1-5 of 144 (next | show all)
After reading "Snowflower and the Secret Fan" I was eager to read another of Lisa See's books. However, perhaps due to timing, I didn't connect with the character, a young girl and later her spirit. I lost interest and didn't complete the book. ( )
  rebwaring | Aug 14, 2023 |
First, I must share my tremendous bias going into reading this book. I absolutely loved See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Loved as in "it's one of my top 10 of all time" loved. So my expectations for Peony in Love were through the roof.

I guess the lesson here is that such high expectations are most likely to be disappointed. And I was. Disappointed.

However, the book is not without some merit which is why I did, in the end, give it 3 stars.

Let's start with some of the major flaws.

First, this book is actually a work of historical fiction. Unfortunately, it is about an opera and a commentary on that opera that most folks (at least Westerners) have never heard of. So, there is very little context for the story, and that made it even harder to get into. There is an Author's Note at the end of the book, and most of that note should have been a forward. Even though the Note reveals some of the story, I think if you want to have a chance at enjoying this story, it's pretty important to read it. Without reading it, you are sort of left pondering "why is See writing a story about a girl watching an opera."

And that goes to the thrust of my main criticism. Until about page 115, I found the story to be very dull. Not so dull that I felt I couldn't continue on. See is a really strong descriptive writer. She is able to evoke cultural details in a way that in and of itself is fascinating. So plot wise, the story is very weak while the telling details of the story are still strong. I love See's writing for these details, so I was able to read onward even though I could have cared less about the main character and what she was going through.

Unfortunately, the plot line does not improve. Frankly, I think the plotline is very low suspense as it is so I'm not sure anything is really being ruined here by knowing what happens. The reason to read this book is to learn about Chinese culture and beliefs not to be hanging by the edge of your seat to find out what happens.

In a nutshell, the story is about a young woman who has an arranged marriage. She's never met her husband to be. She loves this story called "Peony in Love" and while viewing the opera, she spies a young man to whom she is immediately very attracted. She secretly meets the man and falls deeply in love. Basically, she is heartbroken that she will be marrying a man she doesn't know when she loves this man so deeply. There are a couple of little plot twists that I won't reveal, but unfortunately Peony dies before she marries her husband. For the remained of the book (200 pages) the story is told by her ghost. This section of the book is a lot more interesting than the initial 100 pages because it really reveals so much about the Chinese belief system in an afterlife.

There is so much deux ex machina stuff going on, it is beyond belief. The plot just isn't rendered in a believable way to me. If you enjoy fantasy and are the type of person who can really really willingly suspend disbelief, you may enjoy this book. If you can't do that, you are going to struggle.Needless to say, I couldn't. The ghost of Peony basically meddles and meddles in the lives of those she leaves behind - - mostly to good effect. Like most plotlines, she is definitely striving for those things she couldn't obtain while she was alive - - the love of the man she worshipped and a dot on her ancesteral tablet (which would allow her to be considered an ancestor and not a "hungry ghost" in afterlife). She also wants recognition for her writings about the opera. The remainder of the plot is how she goes about trying to obtain these three things.

So why is this book worth reading? Well, See is a master at rendering cultural details - - religious belief, everyday rituals, etc. I've never read better. And I find those details to be quite fascinating in and of themselves. It was these bits and pieces of Chinese culture, beliefs, and history that ultimately made me feel that I wasn't sorry that I read Peony in Love. It is also this type of writing that will make me pick up See's next book and give her another shot.

I think See was just very, very interested in what she saw as a story of women's empowerment. The theme is there, but I just think that by telling the story from the perspective of a dead girl, she provided herself with a fictional platform that easily allowed her to display her writings strengths, but that ignored the reader's need for believability. She then tied her own hands by trying to stay true to all her research regarding the Peony in Love story. For me, this book just didn't work. It was so uneven.

But there were chapters that were little gems, and I will treasure those and wait, more patiently, for See's next book to be published. ( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
Not a Bookclub book, great author
  PatLibrary123 | Aug 9, 2022 |
  nordie | Apr 18, 2022 |
Definitely not what I expected when I started reading this book. It was a little slow at times, but the content was interesting enough to keep me going. Not as engaging as Snow Flower or Shanghai Girls though. ( )
  Monj | Jan 7, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 144 (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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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Peony is the cloistered daughter of a wealthy family is 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, a small theatrical troupe is performing scenes from this epic opera. Peony attends the production, watching from behind a screen, but catches sight of a handsome man and begins a journey of love and sorrow.

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Average: (3.57)
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