Weekend Reads: “Peony in Love,” by Lisa See

Peony in LovePeony in Love by Lisa See

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I often tell people that I have found something to like in every genre of music except for Chinese opera … and yet I have just read a book that is very much about Chinese opera.

Peony is obsessed with an opera called “The Peony Pavilion,” which is about a young woman who dies of love and how she is resurrected as a result of it. Peony has long been betrothed in an arranged marriage to someone called Wen Ru, whom she will not meet until her wedding day. She, in the mean while, meets a poet whose name she does not know … and decides that she is in love with him. Given that she is 16 years old, this is probably not surprising.

She decides that, if she cannot marry her poet, she will die of love … and, of course, after her death, she discovers that Wen Ru is the poet in question.

The majority of the book is written from the perspective of Peony’s afterlife, and depends on an understanding of 16th C. Chinese funerary practices and beliefs. Fortunately, I had read The Ghost Bride already and had a bit of a grounding in this information. From her status as a “hungry ghost,” Peony wreaks a kind of loving havoc on Wen Ru’s subsequent marriage to her cousin before realizing that she has the power to do a great deal of good.

See created this book based on an actual historical document, The Three Wives’ Commentary on The Peony Pavilion, and a great deal of research into female poets and artisans of period in China. Very well done indeed.

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