Peony in Love by Lisa See

I finally understand what the poets have written. In spring, moved to

passion; in autumn only regret. For young Peony, betrothed to a suitor she has never met, the lyrics from The Peony Pavilion mirror her own longings. In the garden of the Chen Family Villa, amidst the scents of ginger, green tea, and jasmine, a small theatrical troupe is performing choice scenes from this epic opera, a live spectacle few girls, even women, have ever seen. Like the heroine in the drama, Peony too is cloistered and from a wealthy family, trapped like a good-luck cricket in a bamboo-and-lacquer cage. Though raised to be obedient, Peony has dreams of her own. Peony’s mother is against the production: “Unmarried girls should not be seen in public.” But Peony’s father prevails, assuring his wife that proprieties will be maintained. Women will watch the opera from behind a screen to hide them from view. Yet through its cracks, Peony catches sight of an elegant, handsome man with hair as black as a cave — and is immediately overcome with too many emotions. So begins Peony’s unforgettable journey of love and destiny, desire and sorrow — as Lisa See’s haunting new novel takes readers back to 17th century China, after the Manchus seize power and the Ming dynasty is crushed. Steeped in traditions and ritual, this story brings to life another time and place — even the intricate realm of the afterworld, with its protocols, pathways, and stages of existence . . . a vividly imagined place where one’s soul is divided into three, ancestors are worshiped, misdeeds are punished, and hungry ghosts wander the earth. Based on a true story, Peony in Love uses the richness and magic of the Chinese afterlife to transcend death and explore the many manifestations of love.  Ultimately, it’s about universal themes: the bonds of female friendship, the power of words, the desire all women have to be heard, and finally those emotions that are so strong that they transcend time, place, and perhaps even death.

Peony in Love

Praise for Peony in Love

“Engrossing…[a] thought-provoking meditation on what it means to be human.” People (Critic’s Choice) “There are grand and stately themes here—the transcendence of love, the silenced voices of women, the subversive power of art… Peony in Love is a transporting read, to lost worlds earthly and otherwise.” The Chicago Tribune “A quietly beautiful tale that sneaks into the reader’s heart… Not since Susie Salmon of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones has a ghostly narrator been as believable and empathetic.” San Antonio Express-News “See is gifted with a lucid, graceful style and a solid command of her many motifs.” The New York Times Book Review

“Shakespearean in its themes and emotional depths.” St. Paul Pioneer Press “A beautiful book about love that reads like an edge-of-your seat thriller you never want to put down or see end….The end of the book fairly soars and had me on the verge of tears. Had I not been in public upon reading the last page, I would have fallen….This is a book to be read and reread, savored and relived, pored over and relished.” The Book Reporter “See is a master storyteller, calling on her knowledge of history, myth, and current international events to craft intricate narratives that are at once edifying and evocative.  In Peony in Love, she leads us on a literary adventure into the past that will have relevance to today’s readers who value drama, accuracy, and the lure of the written word.” The Boston Globe

Peony in Love by Lisa See

I finally understand what the poets have written. In spring, moved to

passion; in autumn only regret. For young Peony, betrothed to a suitor she has never met, the lyrics from The Peony Pavilion mirror her own longings. In the garden of the Chen Family Villa, amidst the scents of ginger, green tea, and jasmine, a small theatrical troupe is performing choice scenes from this epic opera, a live spectacle few girls, even women, have ever seen. Like the heroine in the drama, Peony too is cloistered and from a wealthy family, trapped like a good-luck cricket in a bamboo-and-lacquer cage. Though raised to be obedient, Peony has dreams of her own. Peony’s mother is against the production: “Unmarried girls should not be seen in public.” But Peony’s father prevails, assuring his wife that proprieties will be maintained. Women will watch the opera from behind a screen to hide them from view. Yet through its cracks, Peony catches sight of an elegant, handsome man with hair as black as a cave — and is immediately overcome with too many emotions. So begins Peony’s unforgettable journey of love and destiny, desire and sorrow — as Lisa See’s haunting new novel takes readers back to 17th century China, after the Manchus seize power and the Ming dynasty is crushed. Steeped in traditions and ritual, this story brings to life another time and place — even the intricate realm of the afterworld, with its protocols, pathways, and stages of existence . . . a vividly imagined place where one’s soul is divided into three, ancestors are worshiped, misdeeds are punished, and hungry ghosts wander the earth. Based on a true story, Peony in Love uses the richness and magic of the Chinese afterlife to transcend death and explore the many manifestations of love.  Ultimately, it’s about universal themes: the bonds of female friendship, the power of words, the desire all women have to be heard, and finally those emotions that are so strong that they transcend time, place, and perhaps even death.

Read a Sample Capter

Page 1

peony-in-loveTwo days before my sixteenth birthday, I woke up so early that my maid was still asleep on the floor at the foot of my bed.  I should have scolded Willow, but I didn’t because I wanted a few moments alone to savor my excitement. Beginning tonight, I would attend a production of The Peony Pavilion mounted in our garden. I loved this opera and had collected eleven out of the thirteen printed versions available. I liked to lie in bed and read of the maiden Liniang and her dream lover, their adventures, and their ultimate triumph.  But for three nights, culminating on Double Seven—the seventh day of the seventh month, the day of the lovers’ festival, and my birthday—I would actually see the opera, which was normally forbidden to girls and women.  My father had invited other families for the festivities. We’d have contests and banquets.  It was going to be amazing.

 

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