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Peony in Love by Lisa See

Pub Date:

 

Peony in Love
Lisa See

Random House
6/26/07
Hardcover/284 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6466-3
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Based on… one of the most popular stories from mid-1600 Japan in which the heroine, through her death, chooses her fate rather than allow her family plan her future for her… The book is different and slightly strange but worth reading."

Peony in Love by Lisa See is, surprisingly, based on historical fact. One of the most popular stories from mid-1600 Japan was The Peony Pavilion in which the heroine, through her death, chooses her fate rather than allow her family plan her future for her. Many young girls during that period, frustrated by arranged marriages, imitated the heroine, Liniang, and created an epidemic of “lovesick maiden” deaths.

In the book, while her father is hosting an operatic treatment of The Peony Pavilion, the heroine, Peony, meets a handsome stranger. He convinces her to meet him twice in the compound garden—behavior that is strictly forbidden. As in the opera, once the guests leave Peony pines for her stranger and refuses to eat. Five days before her wedding Peony finds out that her fiancé Ren is, in fact, her stranger-poet but she is too weak to recover. She dies the day of her wedding.

Unexpectedly for a romance, our heroine dies less than one hundred pages into the book. The remainder of the book deals with the lessons she learns as she waits for her family to observe the proper rituals so that she can pass onto the afterlife. From her visitors on the Viewing Terrace of Lost Souls she learns the truth about her parents, and she becomes friends with her venerated grandmother. For seven years she watches life as it unfolds without her on Earth.

Finally her grandmother helps her realize that she is a “hungry ghost” able to roam the earth. She returns to earth for more than fifteen years waiting for her ancestor tablet to be dotted so that she can proceed on her spirit journey. She spends most of this time watching over Ren, her soul mate and one true love.

Finally, after more than twenty years her father agrees to the ghost marriage that would allow her to pass to the next spirit level and, hopefully, release her from her hungry roaming status. But when the time comes to cut her ancestor tablet out of the dummy bride, Ren forbids anyone to deface the dummy. Once more her opportunity to have the tablet dotted is lost. He gives the dummy a private room and visits it daily for several hours. But, eventually he will be the one to release Peony to continue on her journey to the afterlife.

The pacing is quite slow and descriptions are lush which probably contributes to the slow pace. Years pass in a sentence as the total timeline is over twenty years. The style is largely introspective or internal with dialogue seeming to be interruptions of the introspections.

The book is different and slightly strange but worth reading.

Reviewer: Denise Lowe