Thursday, June 19, 2008

Peony in Love by Lisa See

See's latest historical, Peony in Love, centers around Peony Chen, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood who is betrothed to a man that she has never seen or met. Despite her trepidation about her impending marriage, Peony looks forward to her wedding ceremony, until the night she attends her favorite opera, The Peony Pavilion.

Behind the screen where women are required to sit, Peony spots a young man who she feels she is destined to love. During the opera, the two young lovers take a great risk by meeting, even though they know that their fates have already been decided, and Peony's heart becomes even more taken with the young man.

Swept up in the drama of the opera, Peony isolates herself in her room to prepare for her wedding, but she spends much of the time writing commentary on The Peony Pavilion. Consumed by her own love-sickness, tragedy strikes, and the rest of the novel is spent with Peony, who is trapped in the afterworld as a hungry ghost, and who must atone for her actions in order to reach her final resting place.

Much like Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love is rich in cultural history and includes the horrific details of the Chinese foot binding practices. Because Peony requires the reader to suspend their disbelief for a majority of the novel, this book is not for everyone. If you liked Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a better choice for a next read than See's latest might be Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama.

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