Review: Peony in Love by Lisa See

peony-in-love“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.” – Goodreads

Fifteen-year-old Peony, born to a very wealthy family, has lived an extremely sheltered life, never even stepping foot outside of her ancestral home. She has now approached the age of marriage and has been betrothed to a man whom she has never met. Knowing it is her duty as a daughter and future wife, Peony is accepting of this arrangement – until the evening she meets a man for whom she feels true love.

Peony’s father has arranged a three-night performance of her favorite opera, “The Peony Pavillion.” While the women are separated from the men, Peony wanders off into the gardens during the performance and unknowingly runs into a handsome poet. The two forge an instant connection and make plans to meet each night of the opera. Her new love is all Peony can think about and she knows he is the one she is meant to marry.

In the weeks and months leading up to her wedding day, Peony becomes obsessed – sick and weak, knowing she is to be married to one who is not her true love. In a matter of days, much like the ill-fated lovers of her favorite opera, Peony’s life takes a shocking turn that readers will never expect as her life mirrors the story of “The Peony Pavillion” in an uncanny way.

There is so, so much more to this novel but to share more would unmask the hidden twists and turns that are hiding just beneath the surface of this gripping and unusual tale. Readers are given a true glimpse of 17th-century China and their ancient rituals and beliefs surrounding death, the afterlife, and the importance of ancestral heritage.

I have to say that Peony in Love by Lisa See was nothing like what I had anticipated. Things began as expected, of course, but then the explosive first plot twist hit me and I was simply floored. I was so anxious to see how See would continue the tale from that point forward, how she could possibly do so – but do so she did, and with stunningly talented writing, as well. Peony in Love is yet another winner from the amazing Lisa See – I, for one, cannot wait to see what she will bring to us next.

Peony in Love: A Novel by Lisa See. Read it today!

5 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries

 

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