Book Review: Peony in Love

Peony in Love

Lisa See

Random House

297 pages

Peony is a young girl growing up in China in the 17th century.  She is the only child of a wealthy man, who is staging a showing of the popular play “The Peony Pavilion” as the book opens.  Peony is almost bordering on obsessed when it comes to “The Peony Pavilion” and eagerly awaits the performance.  However, during the first night of the performance, she slips away and meets a young man whom she instantly falls in love with.  This is problematic, given that Peony is already betrothed to another man.  She becomes disconsolate at the thought that she will not be able to be with her true love.

Meanwhile, the reader is given a lesson on love through “The Peony Pavilion”.  It is the story of a young girl who dies of lovesickness after she is unable to be with the man she loves.  She becomes so overcome by the physical absence of the man she loves that she stops eating and eventually dies.  Such is the same with Peony.

Up until this point of the story, I was becoming bored.  Ok, we have a lovesick girl.  Big deal.  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was much better.  But then Peony dies.  The rest of the book is written from her perspective in the afterlife.  For whatever reason, this premise fascinates me.  So from that point on, I was completely hooked.

Peony in Love is a great tragic love story.  The emotions See evokes are so palpable.  Almost every page was seeping with emotion.  One portion that really stuck with me and is indicative of the whole book:

“It’s true that life’s tendency to imitate art is not always a comfort,” my father admitted, “but the boy is right.  My daughter could not live without words and emotion.  And you, Commissioner, don’t you sometimes wish you could visit the women’s chambers and experience the true depth of qing?

The whole idea of is it better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all?  Peony died of lovesickness, but in the end, she still got to know what true love felt like.  So although she died at sixteen, she lived more than some people ever will.  And that is what her father is trying to point out in the above passage.

If you are a fan of Lisa See, this book is a must read for you.  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan won rave reviews for me, but I think Peony in Love tops it.  I hope to be reading Shanghai Girls soon!

Other reviews:

Medieval Bookworm

Book Addiction

Books on the Brain

A Novel Menagerie

Caribous Mom

Linus’s Blanket

Fizzy Thoughts

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9 Responses

  1. Thanks for linking to my review here. I loved this book. I got into it right away and was thrown and sulked a little while when she dies before they were able to find out he truth of each other. But the lessons that she learned were great and I loved the way the story unfolded. Might be my fave by Lisa See.

  2. The ghost story grabbed me, too…it was so different! I have a hard time decided if I like this one, or Snow Flower, the best. They’re both fascinating in such different ways.

  3. Oh, I do hope you like Shanghai Girls. I can’t wait for the sequel to it.

  4. I haven’t read anything by Lisa See yet, but I have Secret Fan here. I am sure that I’ll love it, but it is great to know this one is even better.

  5. You’ve just sold me on this one!

  6. I wasn’t crazy about Snow Flower but the idea of a book from the perspective of the afterlife is very interesting!

  7. I kept picking this one up last winter at Costco but kept passing on it to buy something else (maybe 2 or 3 somethings else). I think I should have added this one to the pile!

  8. Great review! As you know, I loved this book too, and I’m very glad you felt the same way. I don’t think Shanghai Girls was quite as good, but I still enjoyed it.

  9. […] Peony in Love, Lisa See […]

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