October 09, 2011
Peony in Love by Lisa See
Peony is a young girl on the cusp of marriageable age. When her father puts forth a show based on her favorite opera, she is once again entranced by the main characters fateful love. Becoming obsessed with the thought of never having her love, she wastes away and dies. As a ghost her spirit can't complete its journey due to her family not performing the rites correctly, and so she wanders, haunting her new husband and his family and still wanting to complete her work on the commentary of that fateful play, The Peony Pavilion.
Its actually kind of hard not to like Peony, despite the fact that she is a bit silly and selfish with some of her actions. She so desperately wants things to go right for herself and in a time where women were not afforded much freedom, you feel yourself cheering for her despite her ideas not being the greatest. Her love interest Ren, on the other hand, I didn't like at all. He didn't seem worthy of Peony's love and actually seemed quite weak overall. There were other characters of course, and I did like the scenes with Peony's mother and grandmother. They imparted a lot of knowledge and really added to the story.
Its a very sad book. There were several times that I really empathized with Peony and her situation. But at the same time there were parts of the book that just dragged for me. For instance, I'm not much of a fan of poetry and there is a lot of it in this book. Which there should be as there was a subtle undercurrent of women and their writing during this period of history. But that still doesn't make me like poetry any better. Those parts and the parts about the play were hard to get through because I found them so boring. But the rest of the book was interesting. I liked how See explored the Chinese thoughts on ancestor worship and life after death and described them so well that I could understand them without a lot of background on the subject. I also was somewhat horrified and intrigued with her descriptions of foot binding in the book. I had always been aware of the practice but this book made it very very real for me.
Definitely an interesting book and a tale on love. It may not be to all tastes but chances are if you've liked See's other works, you'll like this as well. It has strong themes of lost love, women's courage, and literature.
Peony in Love