Sunday, July 27, 2008

Julie's Review: Peony In Love

Photobucket Summary: 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.

Review: I've never been one for Chinese history, it's just never really interested me but after reading Peony in Love: A Novel my curiosity is peaked. This is a superb, spellbinding novel that has deep seeded roots in Chinese culture and history. I absolutely loved it! I'm so glad I had heard/read different things about it on the web and decided to pick it up one day while my daughter was at storytime. This book is most enchanting. You can't help but love and identify with Peony, the heroine in the book. She's idealistic, romantic, a bit selfish and self-absorbed but truly does grow up in the book. This is another book where I don't want to say too much because it'll ruin the story, but it was beautiful. Lisa See is a gifted writer. Her prose was outstanding and her detail and description of everything really brought you to China and that period of time. I loved how you learned things as Peony learned them. I loved learning about the Chinese traditions, cultures and superstitions. It was truly facinating.

I'm not one to read the "Author's Notes" at the end of the books typically but I wanted to on this one. A tremendous amount of research went into this novel and you could tell how much the story meant to the author. It truly was her passion. I can invision Ms. See doing for Chinese historical fiction what Philippa Gregory has done for English historical fiction...take it to a whole new level. Before I even finished Peony in Love, I ordered Ms. See's other novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel and I can't wait to read it.

If you are a fan of historical fiction in any sense, I highly recommend that you read Peony in Love. You won't be disappointed. I certainly was not.

Final Take: 5/5


Marg July 28, 2008 at 5:32 AM  

I really enjoyed reading this book when I read it last year. I am looking forward to reading whatever else she comes up with.

Anonymous ,  July 30, 2008 at 10:25 PM  

Snow Flower is a very good book. I am looking forward to Peony, especially after reading your review!

Anna August 7, 2008 at 11:24 AM  

This book is on my TBR list. Yours is the first review I've seen of it, and I'm glad to hear it's a good book.

--Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

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