- Fizzy Thoughts: Peony in Love

Peony in Love

Saturday, March 15, 2008

WARNING: This post contains spoilers. Please don't read it if you don't want to know what happens in the book Peony in Love. Just know that I really liked this book.

Peony in Love
Lisa See
320 pages

I had been eagerly anticipating this book for months. Although, I will confess that I was a little apprehensive about actually reading it. I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan two years ago and it remains one of my favorite books, for a variety of reasons. The top reason being that I had just dropped out of a master's program in history, partially due to the snobbery I was surrounded by, and then I read Snow Flower and it reminded me that there is more to history than dry, boring academics and their dry, boring books and I was so thankful that Lisa See brought history to life in that book I thought she was the reincarnation of Clio (the goddess of history). Okay, not really on that last part, but I still thought she was all that. And a bag of chips.

Anyhoosie, so part of me was wondering if Peony would live up to Snow Flower. For me, the answer is a resounding yes. I hadn't read much about this book, so I was surprised by the turn the book took, and I ended up loving the whole premise of the book. Once again, I find myself a big fan of Lisa See because she brings Chinese history and culture to life. Unlike those boring-ass academics in the above mentioned program who thought history was all about credible sources and serious books. Which are important, but I think historical fiction also plays an important role because it can convey mood, and create vivid pictures for people who normally think history is the most boringest subject ever. Whoa, I'm back on my soapbox. Sorry. In short, for me, Lisa See created awesome historical fiction in Snow Flower. And she does it again with Peony.

So, some background on the book. It is set in China in the 1600s. Peony, the main character, is a young woman from a wealthy family. She is practically obsessed with an opera, The Peony Pavilion. Peony is about to married off, and one night while her family is watching a performance of The Peony Pavilion, she slips away to meet a young man. This is an incredibly daring and taboo act for a sheltered, secluded young woman. Although she is not discovered, Peony falls in love with the young man, and influenced by the opera, she pines away from love sickness. Then, she dies. And this is where the book gets interesting.

Peony becomes a ghost. And because her family did not follow all of the proper rituals, she becomes a wandering, hungry ghost. She remains in the earthly realm, able to influence the actions of certain people. Peony realizes that the young man she secretly fell in love with was her intended husband. When he marries another, she haunts the new wife in an effort to fulfill her quest to provide a written commentary of The Peony Pavilion for her beloved. She is also determined to find a way to prod her family into to completing the rituals that will release her spirit. The entire second half of the book is about Peony's life as a ghost. By having her main character be a young woman hampered by tradition, and then a ghost bound by the complex ancestor worship of ancient China, the author is able to bring to life Chinese culture and tradition in a way that traditional history books just can't do. And this is why I love this book. First, Lisa See chose two ancient Chinese texts, The Peony Pavilion and The Three Wives Commentary. These are actual texts. Then, she composed a story around them. Then, she took it a step further and used her ghost to illustrate Chinese religion. Instead of saying this is what the Chinese believed, the story becomes this is how it happened, this is how it was. I think I'm rambling, and not very coherently, either. So let's just say I liked the book. Really, really liked it.

5 comment(s):

lisamm said...

I love Lisa See and can't wait to read "Peony". I skimmed what you wrote because I haven't read it yet. Didn't want to spoil it. But I am so excited and so happy to learn that you loved it. I predict I will, too.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for the warning - since I already have this book in my TBR pile, I'll just come back and read your review some other time!

bleeding espresso said...

I'm on a waiting list for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I know I'm going to love...now I'll add this one to my wishlist (but I admit I didn't read through this b/c of the spoiler) ;)

softdrink said...

I can't wait for you all to read it so I can hear your thoughts. I haven't seen it mentioned on anyone's blogs yet.

bkclubcare said...

I thought of Lisamm when I read this and now I see she is the first to comment! I picked this book up at the bookstore but ended up NOT getting it. I'll put it back on the list now.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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