From Publishers Weekly
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)
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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.