“I finally understand what the poets have written. In spring, moved to passion; in autumn only regret.”
For young Peony, betrothed to a suitor she has never met, these lyrics from The Peony Pavilion mirror her own longings. In the garden of the Chen Family Villa, amid the scent of ginger, green tea, and jasmine, a small theatrical troupe is performing scenes from this epic opera, a live spectacle few females have ever seen. Like the heroine in the drama, Peony is the cloistered daughter of a wealthy family, trapped like a good-luck cricket in a bamboo-and-lacquer cage. Though raised to be obedient, Peony has dreams of her own.
Peony’s mother is against her daughter’s attending the production: “Unmarried girls should not be seen in public.” But Peony’s father assures his wife that proprieties will be maintained, and that the women will watch the opera from behind a screen. Yet through its cracks, Peony catches sight of an elegant, handsome man with hair as black as a cave–and is immediately overcome with emotion.
So begins Peony’s unforgettable journey of love and destiny, desire and sorrow–as Lisa See’s haunting new novel, based on actual historical events, takes readers back to seventeenth-century China, after the Manchus seize power and the Ming dynasty is crushed.
Steeped in traditions and ritual, this story brings to life another time and place–even the intricate realm of the afterworld, with its protocols, pathways, and stages of existence, a vividly imagined place where one’s soul is divided into three, ancestors offer guidance, misdeeds are punished, and hungry ghosts wander the earth. Immersed in the richness and magic of the Chinese vision of the afterlife, transcending even death, Peony in Love explores, beautifully, the many manifestations of love. Ultimately, Lisa See’s new novel addresses universal themes: the bonds of friendship, the power of words, and the age-old desire of women to be heard.
From the Hardcover edition.
American author, Lisa See, was born in Paris, France, but spent many years in Los Angeles, primarily in the Chinatown District. Her mother, another novelist, wrote her autobiography which also includes interesting insights into her daughter's life. Lisa See graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a B.A. Degree in 1979.
See had various writing jobs such as a correspondent for Publisher's Weekly on the West Coast and has written articles for Self, Vogue, and More magazines. Lisa See is one-eighth Chinese, and she has done various noted projects concerning the Chinese American population. One such project was featured in the Smithsonian. See has also been an avid public speaker. Adding to her diversification, she also serves as a Los Angeles City Commissioner. See is a member of The Trusteeship, an organization whose members are "prominent women of achievement and influence in diverse fields".
Among her works are: Snowflower and the Secret Fan, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy, and China Dolls. "These books have been celebrated for their authentic, deeply researched, lyrical stories about Chinese characters and cultures". One newer book is about South Korean women of Jeju Island, called The Island of Sea Women. It was chosen as the March 2019 Barnes and Noble nationwide Book Club book to read.