Peony in Love

Posted by Divya at Wednesday, July 29, 2009

By Lisa See

Reading this book is like being caught in an abeyance of disbelief; for the story is a coalesce of myths, beliefs and mayhem of imperial China, so much that even life after death is depicted in all its apparent utopia. That said it is also one of the most passionate tales, crafted in conformance to the famous Chinese opera (The Peony Pavilion ) and the publication of ‘The three wives’ commentary’ of that work.

The story unwinds through the narration of the protagonist, who is the sixteen year old Peony, the typical nubile of fragrant bound feet, eyelashes like bamboo leaves, painter of lilies and all that was the view of the perfect daughter-wife-mother in that era. However, like in life, the perfection is not contained and Peony falls in love with a man she meets at the opera, though she is betrothed by her family to a suitor she hasn’t met.

The author gracefully takes the story to a whole new dimension; she boldly hints at the female strength of mind and emotion in a period that succumbed women to the inner chambers and away from worldly matters. The melodrama ensues with Peony dying of lovesickness, caused by undue indulgence in the opera ‘The Peony Pavilion’ and her state of having fallen in love. While this is nothing but the present day anorexia, the desperate attempt to control one’s life and to be heard.

From here on, the recitation is told by Peony’s apparition. Here the various customs and credence of life of the dead is well rendered, transforming the reader to a suspension of fantasy. Peony’s struggle even after death to find the love she died for and cause her writings about the opera to be heard to the world fills the reminder of the book.

The twists in the tale and the complexity created by love and death, is written in elegant lucidity - of passion, fear and poignancy. The dynamics of the relationship of Peony with other women of that genre, including her mother and dead grandmother take center stage to move the story further. The author concludes with fervor, the impact women's poetry and writings had on the way their world looked at them.

The book is heart-wrenching yet valiant; it is passion’s apotheosis; it is a book you might devour and apprehend. But it is certainly a book you must not miss.


Anonymous said...

I read this book after this review, and I must say this book is everything you say it is and more.

Very nice review :)

And here's wishing you a very happy and prosperous 2010!


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