Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review - Peony in Love

STORYLINE: Peony, the protagonist in Peony in Love , is sequestered in the Chen household with female family members and knows nothing of men beyond her relationship with her father. She is betrothed to a man she has never met and during a performance put on by a troupe her father hires, she catches sight of a handsome man with whom she falls in love. She becomes love sick and her family does not realize what is happening until things turn tragic.

PLAYERS: Peony is a pampered sixteen year old when the reader meets her. Though Peony is spoiled, I could not help but be taken with her as she is curious about learning and stretches her mind beyond the usual things girls are expected to learn.

I LIKED: the fact that the book is a first for me. Lisa See takes the writer beyond the realm of the living into the world of the supernatural. I understand the concept of praying to ancestors for favours, this being part of African culture. However, this book goes much further, in that it explores the things that happen to those who die, and the various stages they go through before they find their final resting place. To date, I have not read any other novel set in China that explores the afterlife in such detail, which is part of what made Peony in Love a fascinating read.

I COULD HAVE LIVED WITHOUT: some of scary bits. See does very well at wrapping the reader in Peony’s ghostly world and the sometimes creepy atmosphere.

OVERALL COMMENTS: One of the major differences between See’s novel and other Chinese fiction is the fact that the characters she writes about are taken from history. This is also the first novel I’ve read which detailed the lives of women who actually existed and were artists – poets, writers and painters. It was new knowledge, but not a surprize that during times of social upheaval, such as the Manchu invasion of Yangzhou, women were expected to sacrifice themselves to save the men in their families.

See brings the reality of life in seventeenth century China into sharp focus through customs, such as ghost marriages. One other practice I’ve read about in several novels is foot-binding; however, See does an excellent job of putting the reader in-scene with the characters. As with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I cringed and cried along with the little girls as they go through the harrowing process, which in rare cases, can end in death.

The practice of ancestral worship was explained in detail and I’ve gained a little more insight into Chinese culture.

The research that went into Peony in Love is apparent, but seamless. See has taken historical characters and situations and combined them in a novel that is intriguing, rich in detail and will hold strong appeal for fans of Chinese fiction
RATING: In my book Peony in Love is a truly awesome read.

SOURCE: I received a copy of Peony in Love through People With Voices


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