Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Peony In Love

Title: Peony in Love
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 304
Edition: Hardcover

Not too long ago, I attended the Book Club Event hosted by Sacramento Bee. Lisa See was the speaker. See's enticing speech about her latest book 'Peony In Love' made me want to read the book right away. When I read it I was in for a delightful treat!

'Peony in Love' is based on a true story about three young women who were married to the same man. They were part of a category known as 'Lovesick Maidens,' women who would catch a case of love sickness, waste away and die. Obsessed with the opera 'Peony Pavilion', the lovesick maidens made copious notes which were later published into a book called 'Three Wives Collaborative Commentary on The Peony Pavilion' - the first book of its kind to be published anywhere in the world.

Peony Chen, the protagonist of the novel, is a young 16-year-old girl who grows up in a wealthy family. Confined to the house, Peony's only view of the outside world is through the lookout pavilion in her garden villa. Peony's marriage is arranged with a man she has never seen. On her 16th birthday, her father brings in a small theatrical troupe for a screening of Peony's much beloved opera. Despite her mother's disapproval of the idea, selected scenes from the opera were staged in the garden of the Chen's Family Villa.

In those days, unmarried women should not be seen in public. Hence, Peony watches the opera from behind the screen. Through the little opening she catches the glimpse of a handsome man whom she falls in love with. As Peony suffers from love sickness, she is drawn to the opera and spends all her time poring over it. Eventually, like all the 'love sick maiden', she wastes away and dies. Peony reaches the after world and wanders as a hungry ghost. The story then follows the footsteps of Peony and her quest to unite with the love of her life.

Not having read many Chinese based novels, 'Peony In Love' offered me a wonderful insight into the Chinese traditions and customs. The intricate realm of Chinese after world, Ghost Weddings, Feast for Hungry Ghosts and ancestral worship were some of the fascinating segments of the book. A few pages were devoted to the excruciatingly painful foot-binding custom practiced in ancient China. I really enjoyed reading this novel, even though it was a bit of a drag towards the end. I look forward to reading her bestseller 'The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan'.

My Rating: 3.5/5


Stephanie said...

I read Snow Flower and really enjoyed it. My husband is Chinese and we recently adopted our daughter from China, so love to read books about their culture.

Happy Reader said...

@stephanie ~ Thanks for stopping by! How sweet of you to adopt a girl from China! It should have been quite an experience for you! I will visit your blog soon.

Radha said...

sounds very intersting!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Chitts!

If you enjoyed "Peony in Love" you are going to absolutely adore "Snowflower and the Secret Fan". I really liked "Peony" for all the various and obsolete details it provides on life in China in those days (the author obviously did a very thorough research).

I found it a rather difficult book to review because of the various parallel stories contained within its pages. I wrote and rewrote my impressions of the novel several times but even then I wasn't satisfied with how it turned out.

You've done a great job summarizing the story for us, thanks!

Happy Reader said...

@radha ~ Hope you get a chance to read it!
@Lotus ~ Can't wait to read 'snowFlower' book. When I was at the bookclub event, the author talked about how much research she had to do for the book and it was quite an amazing work! I do agree the book talks a lot of interesting aspects of China and its culture.
It was indeed difficult to review. But, Like Always you did a fabulous job reviewing it for us!!