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Peony in Love: A Novel Paperback – February 19, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Set in 17th-century China, See's fifth novel is a coming-of-age story, a ghost story, a family saga and a work of musical and social history. As Peony, the 15-year-old daughter of the wealthy Chen family, approaches an arranged marriage, she commits an unthinkable breach of etiquette when she accidentally comes upon a man who has entered the family garden. Unusually for a girl of her time, Peony has been educated and revels in studying The Peony Pavilion, a real opera published in 1598, as the repercussions of the meeting unfold. The novel's plot mirrors that of the opera, and eternal themes abound: an intelligent girl chafing against the restrictions of expected behavior; fiction's educative powers; the rocky path of love between lovers and in families. It figures into the plot that generations of young Chinese women, known as the lovesick maidens, became obsessed with The Peony Pavilion, and, in a Werther-like passion, many starved themselves to death. See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, etc.) offers meticulous depiction of women's roles in Qing and Ming dynasty China (including horrifying foot-binding scenes) and vivid descriptions of daily Qing life, festivals and rituals. Peony's vibrant voice, perfectly pitched between the novel's historical and passionate depths, carries her story beautifully—in life and afterlife. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

If critical responses to Peony in Love are a bit uneven, consider that they follow the breakout success of Lisa See's previous novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (**** Sept/Oct 2005). See continues to base her work on China's history, and her thorough research shines here. However, the richness of detail threatens to overshadow the narrative, a fault which prompts one reviewer to assert that Peony in Love, whose plot mirrors that of an opera and which serves up themes of love, inspiration, and creativity, would be have been better as a work of history than a novel. But for historically accurate, impassioned fiction about China's women, See has few peers.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 297 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812975227
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812975222
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (322 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

139 of 146 people found the following review helpful By Karen Ornelas on June 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"There are several elements here - Tang Xianzu's opera, the lovesick maidens, the history of The Three Wives' Commentary, and the societal changes that allowed it to be written. I know they're rather complicated and overlap a bit, so please bear with me." So says Lisa See, the author of Peony in Love in her notes at the end of the novel.

Fortunately, I also found the text of the notes on the author's web site under the heading `On Writing Peony in Love' while I was reading the book. If I hadn't, I'm sure I would have given up on this novel at about page 110. The notes provided much needed insight into the author's purpose and an invaluable historical context for what I was reading.

I did find the historical aspects and the vivid descriptions of the Chinese afterlife fascinating. Having already read Snowflower and the Secret Fan I didn't feel I needed another description of footbinding so I confess that I skipped that brief passage. The author's ultimate point is clearly the issue of women's voices and `a woman's need to be heard.' She makes this point strongly - and repeatedly. For all of that, there was still much to enjoy in the novel.

In my opinion, this book doesn't live up to her earlier novel, Snowflower and the Secret Fan. I really feel the publisher should change the Author's Notes to a Foreword and I urge anyone who chooses to read this to read the Author's Notes first.
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118 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Richards HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The old theme of star-crossed lovers takes an Oriental twist in this historical period drama about a love-struck young girl, an enamored poet, and the opera that not only brings them together but casts them apart.

This story is about Peony, a young woman and only child of a wealthy family. Set in seventeenth century China, when well brought up young women weren't allowed to be seen or heard, especially by strange men, Peony's father organizes a theatrical performance of the opera "The Peony Pavilion", and although her mother doesn't want her to see it, arrangements are made for a screen to be erected, behind which the women can get a glimpse of the epic opera. Peony is a big fan of "The Peony Pavilion", having collected many editions, reading and memorizing many of the popular segments, but even though seeing it live is a big thrill, she becomes more interested in observing a young man sitting in the audience.

Risking her reputation, she wanders off on her own, and as fate would have it, she encounters the young man in an isolated place, where they discover that they enjoy each other's company very much. Unfortunately, Peony is already betrothed by way of an arranged marriage, and as the big day approaches she spends her days dreaming of the young man and obsessively recording her thoughts in an edition of the great opera, refusing food and ignoring the advice of the doctors and other experts that come to see her. From this point her life takes a dramatic turn with a cruel twist, and the story and the opera fuse together in elaborate fashion, becoming a dark fantasy full of ghosts, superstition and tradition.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Leah on July 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As one reviewer said, this is not a traditional story told in the common-used Western world approach. This is a detailed, gritty and beautiful look into the life of a young girl so taken with the power of her first and only love that she dies from it.

Peony starts out as spoiled but she grows into a thought-provoking character after her chance meeting with Ren, the man who would have been her husband. After she dies from "lovesickness", she spends her time looking in on this man and her family from the spirit plane as a doomed hungry ghost, scavenging for food when the time comes and living in fear of being forgotten by those she loves. She must also deal with the cold hard truth of Ren finding happiness with other women, including an old enemy, Tan Ze.

Some might say her actions as a ghost with Ze are unsavory and make Peony into a villainess, and I will admit some of the things she does were questionable (such as having her stay up all night to have her write about "The Peony Pavillion," Peony's favorite play), but what you get is a girl filled with passion and her desire to be remembered. She tries to make up her actions when Ren's third wife, Yi, almost dies during childbirth and Peony saves both her and the child.

See's voice may start off slow and repetetive and some of her decriptions are purple prose (Peony talks about pearls filling her heart when she's happy), but her story picks up tremendously. She explores the surroundings of the people who populate the novel like a painter, with fine brushstrokes you wouldn't notice but definitely appreciate. She makes the Chinese afterlife into a real place, with all its levels and grim or happy fates. Lastly, she gives the reader a view of an unlikely love, of mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, and husbands and wives. It may not be "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," but it's a good story for the heartstrings.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Lucrezia M. on March 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
First, I want to make it clear that I am not giving this book three stars because I didn't like it. In my mind, three stars means the book was good/average.

I love historical fiction set in East Asia, and I am immediately interested by any kind of chthonic mythology/folklore, so I knew this book would be a good read for me. And it was, up to a certain point. The first third of the book had a lot of information about what it means to be a young, well-to-do woman in 17th century Chinese society. I was surprised at how cloistered the women were, and how difficult it must have been for them to suppress their personalities in favor of behaving like a model wife or daughter. If any reader is interested in Chinese women's history or Chinese social history, this book would be of interest. On the other hand, if you tend to get bored at a slow, unfolding plot, then this book might be difficult to get though. (One thing that bothered me in this part was that the pseudo-surprise right before Peony's, uh, adventure--I'm trying really hard not to spoil anything--could be seen from approximately 2.5 billion miles away, and since it was so obvious, the ensuing action was totally frustrating, constantly making me want to jump in the pages and smack Peony upside the head.)

The book takes a fairly radical turn about 1/3 of the way in. Here's where things started getting more interesting for me. The story becomes more than an exploration of the ways in which love can go on--it is a Bildungsroman, a treatise on "the woman's desire to be heard," a tale of love between a mother and a daughter, a display of women writers in 17th century China, and a story of misunderstandings and preconceptions coming to light and being resolved.
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