Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book Review: Peony in Love

"I finally understand what the poets have written. In spring, moved to passion; in autumn, only regret."

For Peony, on the cusp of her 16th birthday when she''ll leave girlhood behind and be married, the words from the Chinese opera The Peony Pavilion feed her poetic spirit and her longing for love. In celebration of her birthday, her father arranges a special 3-night performance of the opera, during which Peony sneaks away and meets a young man in the garden. They fall madly in love but both are betrothed and realize they will be condemned to a life of misery without one another.

And the rest, I can't tell.

If you are going to read Lisa See's Peony in Love, you'll need to be prepared to suspend your disbelief for much of the novel. See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was one of my Top 10 Books for 2007, not only because she tells a riveting story with vivid characters, but because of her descriptions of life for Chinese women in seventeenth and eighteenth century China. Like this:
"Another lush and warm night. In our women's chambers we enjoyed a banquet that included beans dried in spring sunshine and then steamed with dried tangerine peel, and red seventh-month crabs, which were the size of hen's eggs and available from our local waters only at this time of year. Special ingredients were added to the married women's dishes to help them get pregnant, while others were left out for those who were or might be with child: rabbit meat, because everyone knows it can cause a hare lip, and lamb, because it can cause a baby to be born ill. But I wasn't hungry."
See's novels are positively packed with such details, and I thoroughly enjoy her writing style. This one wasn't as fantastic as Snow Flower, but it was a great read.

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