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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love is of source unknown, yet it grows ever deeper
The old theme of star-crossed lovers takes an Oriental twist in this historical period drama about a love-struck young girl, an enamored poet, and the opera that not only brings them together but casts them apart.

This story is about Peony, a young woman and only child of a wealthy family. Set in seventeenth century China, when well brought up young women...
Published on 18 Aug. 2007 by Amanda Richards

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I'd expected
This is a really difficult book to review because it wasn't at all what I'd expected. The first third ran more or less true to form, following Peony as she prepares to turn 16 and leave her natal home to join a husband that she has never met. To commemorate a significant festival her father arranges a production of the epic opera The Peony Pavilion; an opera that Peony...
Published on 29 Sept. 2008 by DubaiReader


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love is of source unknown, yet it grows ever deeper, 18 Aug. 2007
By 
Amanda Richards "Hotpurplekoolaid" (ECD, Guyana) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Peony in Love (Hardcover)
The old theme of star-crossed lovers takes an Oriental twist in this historical period drama about a love-struck young girl, an enamored poet, and the opera that not only brings them together but casts them apart.

This story is about Peony, a young woman and only child of a wealthy family. Set in seventeenth century China, when well brought up young women weren't allowed to be seen or heard, especially by strange men, Peony's father organizes a theatrical performance of the opera "The Peony Pavilion", and although her mother doesn't want her to see it, arrangements are made for a screen to be erected, behind which the women can get a glimpse of the epic opera. Peony is a big fan of "The Peony Pavilion", having collected many editions, reading and memorizing many of the popular segments, but even though seeing it live is a big thrill, she becomes more interested in observing a young man sitting in the audience.

Risking her reputation, she wanders off on her own, and as fate would have it, she encounters the young man in an isolated place, where they discover that they enjoy each other's company very much. Unfortunately, Peony is already betrothed by way of an arranged marriage, and as the big day approaches she spends her days dreaming of the young man and obsessively recording her thoughts in an edition of the great opera, refusing food and ignoring the advice of the doctors and other experts that come to see her. From this point her life takes a dramatic turn with a cruel twist, and the story and the opera fuse together in elaborate fashion, becoming a dark fantasy full of ghosts, superstition and tradition.

The author lingers over the historical details, the proud traditions, the poetry of the opera and the protocols of the afterlife, as well as other remarkable activities such as foot binding and embroidery, and although this is an extremely poignant and melancholy book, it is so rich in description that you won't want to put it down. A dramatic, absorbing and informative story that will remain with you for a long time after you've finished reading it.

Amanda Richards
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Snowflower crossed with The Lovely Bones, 2 July 2007
I loved Snowflower and the Secret Fan so much I didn't think Lisa See could equal it, but with Peony in Love she does. At first I thought it would be about Snowflower's daughter Peony from the first novel, but it's actually set even further back in time, in 17th century China. Foot-binding is still a major theme, though not described in such terrifying detail this time round.Chinese Renaissance opera and a woman's right to write are new themes. The novel, in a faintly satirical but wholly compelling way, also focuses on the complex rituals associated with the afterworld in Chinese mythology. Peony's first person narration and all the sumptuous detail of sights, sounds and smells keep the novel

fresh and modern.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Get pass Chapter I and it's fantastic from there, 19 Mar. 2009
By 
Doogie (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Peony in Love (Paperback)
I read this book as I loved 'Snow flower and the secret fan'. At first I was disappointed as I found chapter I not interesting at all, but I stuck with it and am glad I did. After the first chapter the book starts to become compelling to find out the next turn in Peony's life. I have ready a few Chinese novels (The last empress, the secrets of Jin-Shei etc) and each one has shown a different side to the Chinese traditions and this one is no exception, love, death, honour, rituals and mainly the after world.
A wonderful read and another source of information into another beautiful culture
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I'd expected, 29 Sept. 2008
By 
DubaiReader "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Peony in Love (Paperback)
This is a really difficult book to review because it wasn't at all what I'd expected. The first third ran more or less true to form, following Peony as she prepares to turn 16 and leave her natal home to join a husband that she has never met. To commemorate a significant festival her father arranges a production of the epic opera The Peony Pavilion; an opera that Peony has read many times but never seen. Without giving too much away, this part of the book left me feeling frustrated and sad and although the book comes to a satisfying ending, it is not a cheerful tale.
From here on we are in the realms of the dead, interesting from the point of view of Chinese beliefs about the afterlife, but otherwise rather slow. Whilst I enjoyed Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and A Place Called Here by Celia Ahern, Ms See's take on the afterworld did not enthrall me. The commentary on the opera and on Peony and her 'sister-wives' views on love and marriage were also hard going.
This book was based on historical fact but where it veered into the realms of imagination, for me, it veered a bit too far.
Worth a read but not a book I'd recommend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting, 31 Aug. 2008
By 
Elaine Simpson-long (Colchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Peony in Love (Paperback)
Not quite sure why I was interested in this book as it is set in 17th century China, a country about which I know very little, and about whose traditions I am totally ignorant. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition with the Olympic Games being in China, and the mention of an opera at the start of this story that made me feel I might have a crack at this. And how glad I am I did as I was totally beguiled by this simply lovely book.

Peony hears a performance of an opera, the Peony Pavilion, performed on her fifteenth birthday, She has always lived in the cloistered women's quarters of her family villa and while the men can watch this opera freely, the women are hidden behind screens. Peony is to marry a man she has never seen but she yearns to feel love as the heroine in this opera with whom she feels an affinity. During the performance she slips away into garden and there meets an elegant, handsome man with whom she becomes bewitched. He is also betrothed and though they fall in love immediately, they know they can never be together.

After her birthday Peony begins to study the opera even more closely and identifies with the doomed Liniang who dies of love and in her second life undertakes a ghost marriage with the man she has left behind on her death. Peony becomes obsessed with this idea and gradually stops eating, she becomes ill and weaker and weaker and dies. Only after her death does she find out that the man she met during the opera and with whom she fell in love, was her betrothed husband. She has died for nothing.

In the aftermath of her death, her ancestral tablet is put to one side and the ritual which would allow her soul to pass into the next life, is incomplete and she is condemned to an eternity on the Viewing Pavilion watching her family, her life which she threw away and also her lost husband, Ren. Difficult to describe from this point on just how fascinating and beautiful the rest of this story is but I will try.

Ren marries several years later, to Ze, a cousin of Peony who had been jealous of her and who is eager to take her place and her husband. As a 'hungry ghost', one who has no home and no place to rest, Peony resides in the home of Ren and becomes a 'sister wife' to Ze who is aware that her spirit is abroad. Using the full force of her will Peony turns her from an unpleasant, jealous woman to a good wife to Ren, all the time longing for her ghost marriage with Ren which will bring her happiness in her after life.

Peony meets her grandmother in the Viewing Pavilion and, later, her mother who have dreadful tales to tell of their rape and suffering at the hands of the Manchu during the Cataclysm. Peony realises that she knew nothing about her parent and understood them even less when she was alive. It is only after her death that she is able to mature and grow into a wise and loving woman.

Sounds odd to say that there is a happy ending bearing in mind the circumstances of the story, but there is one and I found it quite moving. The rituals and customs of the living and the dead are portrayed beautifully and there is a delicacy and grace in their description. While reading this book, I found myself feeling very peaceful and almost physically light, very difficult to put this emotion into words, there was just a feeling of beauty and orderliness and rightness about each and every action.

"... they put me in padded undergarments so I might be warm in winter, and then they slipped my limbs into the silk gowns and satin tunics that had been made for my dowry....for my outer layer I wore a padded silk jacket with sleeves embroidered in an elaborate and very colourful kingfisher pattern...Mama placed a sliver of jade in my mouth to safeguard my body. Second Aunt tucked coins and rice in my pockets so I might sooth the rabid dogs I'd meet on the way to the after world. Third Aunt covered my face with a thin piece of white silk. Fourth Aunt tied coloured string around my waist to prevent me from carrying away any of our family's children and around my feet to restrain my body from leaping about should I be tormented by evil spirits on my journey"

A elegant, satisfying book. Please do read it if you can.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Peony is a good read, but definitely not a romance, 28 Jan. 2012
By 
Lauren K. (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Peony in Love (Paperback)
Peony In Love was a really good book, very well written and filled with the all of the drama, conflict, and beautiful prose you would expect from a novel by Lisa See. I read Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy before this one, and it was interesting to recall some of the reviews I read before I purchased the aforementioned books. So many people thought Peony was See's best book, and that Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy fell short.

This book is listed as a romance, but I would beg to differ. I don't want to give any spoilers, but the main character does perish in the beginning of the book, and spends the rest of book as a ghost who watches over the man she loved in life. There are some moments, such as the description of foot binding: the process, the smells, the painful agony of the practice, and the erotic pleasure men received from it, that I wish I never read. See details them so well that the idea of it all kept me up at night, making me feel sick.

The story itself is very solid, and if you're not squeamish and don't mind the heaviness of literary fiction, then by all means you should pick it up. It is rich with history, and as I mentioned before, fine prose.

Liz R. Newman, Author of An Affinity for Shadows
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5.0 out of 5 stars A romantic and detailed work of historical fiction, 5 Nov. 2009
By 
M. K. Burton - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Peony in Love (Paperback)
Living in seventeenth-century China, Peony has never left her family's home. Her mother has kept her inside to maintain her virtue and modesty as she prepares to marry out to a stranger. Peony is nearly sixteen, and on her birthday, her father has planned a performance of her favorite play, The Peony Pavilion. As the only child, Peony has been educated beyond what her mother deems appropriate, and as a result has a great appreciation for literature. On the night of the play, Peony accidentally meets a handsome young poet, immediately falling in love with him. In despair over her approaching marriage to a stranger and consumed by obsession for the play and her poet, Peony's life spirals into a haunting struggle through the nebulous underworld and culminates with her quest to give Chinese women a voice.

I've been looking forward to this novel since it came out and was pleased to finally have the opportunity to read it. Lisa See didn't let me down; while not as masterful as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I read before blogging, Peony in Love is a romantic story about the struggles of women in China with an abundance of fascinating historical detail and a healthy dose of fantasy. Peony dies in the first third of the novel (this is revealed on the back cover, so I don't consider it a spoiler) and enters a world of Chinese mythology, where Lisa See uses her research on those beliefs to elaborate on how Peony can still communicate and influence those she loves. We know her ending cannot be totally happy, but her story is still compelling and absorbing.

My favorite aspect of the book was how it mirrored The Peony Pavilion in many ways but also reflected real historical events. I have never read the play, but enough is described in this novel to make it clear that Peony is essentially trying to become Liniang and get her Mengmei to bring her back to life. It was fascinating and maddening to realize that many young women did actually die of "lovesickness" in this way. Basically, it's believed that they became anorexic, which is horrifying, to both gain control over their lives and because they supposedly believed that true love would save them. Even though this sounds a little far-fetched, it's easy to relate to Peony and sympathize with her. She's fallen in love and believes that now she is forced to marry a stranger. I loved the details of her preparations for marriage (except the repeat footbinding!) and the ceremonies enacted before and after her death. This is a part of the world and a period in history I just don't read enough about.

Better yet, I liked how the novel emphasized the role of women in China and how it has been eroded throughout the centuries. The Three Wives' Commentary on the play actually exists, as did the writing groups and female poets in the novel, and I'm incredibly intrigued by them and want to learn more about the movement. This is why I love historical fiction! Not only did I get a great story, but I also got a peek into unfamiliar history and a strong desire to learn what's true and what's fiction. Peony in Love is definitely recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Unrequited Love, 6 Jun. 2008
This review is from: Peony in Love (Paperback)
The heroine of this novel is Peony a teenage girl living in C17 China under the cultural restrictions of the era.
Using the plot of the ancient Chinese opera `The Peony Pavilion' as the framework for the story Lisa See has weaved historical fact with fiction to write of the emotional and ghostly bonds between three sister wives. Chen Tong (Peony), Tan Ze and Qian Yi were all real women and although it is known for a fact that Chen Tong's name was changed because it was the same as her future mother in laws, it is not know what name was chosen. Lisa See has kept to historical fact as far as possible and although it is thought that Peony never actually met Wu Ren it is true that he wanted his wives to be acknowledged and approved the publication of their work.
A tragic romance, Peony is actually only alive for the first part of the novel (95 pages) after which she is a `ghost' living in the afterlife. She died at sixteen, an innocent young girl, from love-sickness, by starving herself to death. As before her arranged wedding day she meets a young man and falls in love She learns far more about life and love after her death than she could have known after such a short life.

It was fascinating to read about the beliefs of the Chinese in the after life, very complicated!

This novel did not have the same impact on me as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but is nonetheless worth reading, especially if you are interested in learning more about the role of women in Chinese culture.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Love, Asian Style, 9 Dec. 2011
This review is from: Peony in Love (Paperback)
I have always been a lover of the peony flower so I bought this book simply because of the artistic rendition of the flower on the cover and the flower name in the title. I haven't read too many stories about Asian life and culture because the names of people are difficult for me to read. I do think there is much to be said, however, for the romance of such an exotic area.

As you will have gathered from other reviews, this book is set in 17th century China and deals with Peony, a young girl who lets romance carry her away during a theatrical performance that takes place at her family villa on her sixteen birthday. Peony tells the story of what transpires and how she falls in love with a young poet to whom she eventually becomes engaged. It is not until Peony recounts the preparations for what she believes is her wedding day that she realizes that the dress she is wearing is wrong and there are other things that are out of place. What she is witnessing is nothing less than her funeral. From that point on she, as a ghost, is allowed to follow the lives of her relatives and her young poet. Not until some years later, when her family and her would-have-been-husband's family finally mourn her properly, is her spirit allowed to find peace on the other side.

This story is an engrossing tale of the culture of long-ago China and the place in society that women held. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and give Lisa See kudos for presenting the story in such a unique fashion.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Rollercoaster Ride, 17 Jan. 2008
This review is from: Peony in Love (Paperback)
This book starts of wonderfully, superb detailed, imaginable description(which does continue throughout), wonderful scene setting, and it entices you with the excitement the young couple experience in their secret meetings and the curiosity of what the future will hold for them...

However after the first section of the book finishes and Peony's life as a ghost kicks in it becomes quite disappointing. Peony restricts herself to one room within the Wu household with the task of making Ze a good wife in the bedroom and also her puppet for her project. That feeling of restriction can be felt by the reader through the lack of real plot at this point within the book. Through Peony's use of Ze as puppet Lisa See goes beyond blurring the lines of historical & fantastical fiction. And with Chinese culture being a prominent theme within the text and their belief of demons & ghosts it brings an almost unbelievable or unrealistic aspect.

Once Ze passes on and Peony meets her mother and beings to repent the text does thankfully improve. The bond between a mother and daughter is brought to the forefront of the text bringing real, identifiable emotion which the book lacked in the second section.

Overall it was readable, i wouldn't read it again, but the description & detail the author puts into the text is exquisite, it cannot be faulted in that respect. Any book is always worth a read...
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Peony in Love
Peony in Love by Lisa See (Paperback - 7 July 2008)
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