Peony in Love – My Last Book Review of 2009

Peony in Love by Lisa See

Peony in Love by Lisa See

Peony in Love is an example of awe-inspiring yet utterly readable historical fiction/mythology. It is based in 16-17th century China just after the downfall of the Ming dynasty after their defeat by the Manchu invaders.

On the face of it, Peony in Love is about the 16 year old heroine Peony who falls in love with a stranger at a rendition of the popular opera The Peony Pavilion. She is already betrothed to marry a total stranger, and in despair, she stops eating and dies before her wedding, little knowing that the man she is supposed to marry is the stranger she fell in love with. After her death, she becomes a “hungry ghost” and watches over her future husband’s life and tries to make him happy in any way she can. She is also a great writer who longs to have her commentary on the Peony Pavilion written during her short life span published, so that her husband can finally hear her voice through her written words. The rest of the story deals with how she manages to achieve her ends.

I loved how Lisa See has wrapped the story into the actual historical events of the time. Peony in Love is a work of fiction, but Peony herself and some of the other characters in the novel are real. The story sticks as close as possible to the actual historical events of that time.

The actual love story was a little bit blah. Probably, I am too modern in my thoughts and approach, but I just couldn’t get into Peony’s emotions. She falls in love with a total stranger, they recite bits and pieces of poetry to each other, and based on this flimsy relationship (they meet just thrice), Peony stops eating, becomes obsessed with thoughts of her man, and dies! Something I just could not swallow, but then I am not a 16-year old who’s never seen a strange man before 🙂

What I loved in this book is something much more than the love story. Lisa See delivers great historical depth to Peony in Love. Her research is unbelievable. I learned so much about traditional Chinese practices such as arranged marriages, foot binding, architecture, familial structure, religious beliefs, dietary customs, and ancient medicinal treatments. Her descriptions of the Manchu invasion and the massacre in Yangzhou were really heart-breaking to read.

All in all, a highly recommended read!

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  • During my last summer vacations I spent some days at my grandma’s and I didn’t have anything to read. Luckily for me, my grandma loves books, so she gave me this one and said “I liked it until the whole fantasy thing started”, which then I discovered was most of the book, “I guess you’ll like it since you usually like this kind of books”. So I gave it a try. It was so strange, because I didn’t like it that much and still I couldn’t put it down. I had never read fantasy (I don’t know which genre it actually belongs to) of this kind, so it was hard to get used to it. But it was so engaging at the same time! Something I really liked about it was the whole historical context. I learnt so much about China’s culture of that time, and the foot binding tradition was the one thing that struck me most. After I devoured the book, my grandma gave me another one by Lisa See (I don’t remember the name of the book, it is about women that had there own secret language to communicate, or something like that), but I haven’t read it yet. Maybe I’ll read it during my next summer break 🙂

  • priyaiyer

    Lovely review! Sounds like the kind of book that I’d love to read! 🙂

  • I have this book but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. 😀

  • Peony in Love sounds very interesting, I am currently on a hunt for historical fiction so good luck to me! 🙂

  • You should read “Snowflower And Secret Fan “; it is incredible! I read it last month and am just not able to write a review, I think I should reread it and then review it! This book sounds equally enchanting and I am a fan of hers already.

    great review!

    • @veens: I know, I should read Snowflower…somehow, it ends up going on the back-burner of my TBR list.

  • Hey after reading nice review of yours , I am eagerly looking forward to read this book

  • Great review. If you liked this you must read her Snowflower And Secret Fan . It’s a great book too.

    • Yes, Shweta. This is my first Lisa See book, and I am planning to read other books she has written. I really liked this one.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting 🙂

  • Rajashree

    Nice review Nishita. Hope to find time at least in 2010 to read this book 🙂

  • Kals

    I don;t read too many China-related fiction, but maybe I should start after this promising review and reco 🙂

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