Select one of the keywords
Peony in Love    by Lisa See order for
Peony in Love
by Lisa See
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was one of my favorite books of 2005, so I was excited that Lisa See had published a new novel. Finding her to be such a gifted writer, I didn't even care what the subject of this new book was, but as it turns out, See returns to familiar themes and settings.

Set in China in the early 1600s, Peony in Love is both a ghost story and a love story. Peony is the only daughter of the Chen family and as such, she is viewed by society as worthless. She is raised for the sole purpose of marrying into another family and producing sons to continue the family line. Like most other women of that time period, she undergoes a foot binding process to turn her feet into golden lilies and make her more marriageable.

Peony's father breaks tradition by allowing his daughter access to literature and opera. He stages a production of a famous real-life Chinese opera, The Peony Pavilion. This opera chronicles a star-crossed romance that goes on after death. Peony - who has never
ventured outside her family villa - is permitted, along with the other women of the household, to see the opera. Afterward, Peony is never the same, having fallen in love with a stranger.

Peony is extremely distraught over her upcoming arranged marriage, believing that she will never have the opportunity for the kind of true love depicted in The Peony Pavilion. Many of the women who saw the opera suffered from lovesickness and tragic consequences often followed. Once Peony enters the afterworld, she continues the narration of her story beyond the grave as she wanders, trying to protect her loved ones and make up for some of her actions during life.

Peony's story parallels the opera she so loved. During her life she had begun a series of learned commentary about the opera but her efforts were thwarted - the question arises, will she have the opportunity to complete her work despite her death? After her death, Peony also learns many family secrets, especially some surprising discoveries about the women in her family.

See's love of ancient Chinese history and respect for women of that era is apparent. The book takes place following the devastation of the Cataclysm, during a time of change in China, when women were slowly breaking out of their traditional roles; some fortunate few became published authors. Despite the many references to death, the rituals of dying, and the
fact that the book is narrated by a ghost, the book is never creepy or disturbing, but beautiful because of the underlying notion that love not only survives death but grows even stronger.

The book not only pays homage to the power of love, but it is also a celebration and recognition of women writers and the contribution they have made to literature for centuries. This multi-textured novel is a triumph. I predict that Peony in Love will soon become a book club favorite.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Historical books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews