Peony in Love by Lisa See

Peony in Love: A NovelThis book has been on my TBR list for ages. Since before I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan a year and a half ago. And boy am I glad that I finally got to it.

First, your teasers. My two favorite passages occurred a mere page apart:

“Quite by accident – except that it had to be fate interfering – he found the box with Liniang’s rolled-up self-portrait scroll.” p. 34

“Perhaps he was as afraid as I was that we’d be caught.Or perhaps he was breathing me in just as I was letting him come into my lungs, my eyes, my heart.” p. 35

It’s part historical fiction, part ghost story, part coming of age. It is a story about growing up, accepting changes, and most of all  love – romantic love, sexual love, familial love. The greatest of  which is probably the womanly love formed between mothers and daughters (which can also be the toughest love to recognize).

In the conversation with Lisa See at the end, she mentions that she wrote this to show that women (who may be been silenced) have not been silent throughout history. While there may be little  record of it, women were always thinking, writing, creating. See also mentions that she believes women still struggle to have their voices heard. How many times do we find our husbands and boyfriends not really listening to us? How many times growing up did we ignore our mother’s request to clean our room and immediately obey our father’s. This actually sparked an interesting discussion between Ben and me. We have about as egalitarian a relationship as you can get, yet there may be traces of this in existence (then again, sometimes I don’t listen to Ben, too).

When I read this book, I didn’t realize that the characters were based on real people. I assumed some of the basis for the story was true – I figured The Peony Pavillion was a real book, but that was as far as I thought the history went. After finishing the book and reading the Author’s Note, I learned that the characters of Peony, Ze, Ti, and Wu Ren all
existed and The Three Wive’s Commentary is real. This makes their story so much more compelling to me. Part of the reason I love Lisa See’s novels is because it is a chance to learn about Chinese history and culture. When the story intertwines with real history, it enhances that experience.

I loved Peony in Love even more than Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I can’t wait to get to Shanghai Girls.

Out of curiosity, has anyone read her earlier novels?

7 thoughts on “Peony in Love by Lisa See

  1. Kelly October 6, 2009 / 4:31 pm

    I have this but haven't read it. I did really like Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and I loved Shanghai Girls.


  2. Dominique October 6, 2009 / 5:40 pm

    I loved Peony in Love too. I just finished Shanghai Girls (review to come shortly) and I can't figure out which one of her books I like best, PIL, SG or the Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I've enjoyed them all.


  3. Bina October 7, 2009 / 1:12 am

    I´ve only read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and found it to be alright but didn´t like it early as much as you guys seem to.The premise of this one sounds interesting. Societies are set up to subordinate women, so it´s always great to read about women speaking up. And this system is still predominant in our lives (I did my bachelor thesis on patriarchy so I´m a little nutso about this 😀 )!


  4. Michelle October 7, 2009 / 4:35 am

    Peony in Love was very different from Snow Flower. Even if you didn't like that one as much, you should give Peony in Love a try.


  5. Dominique October 7, 2009 / 5:12 am

    I agree. It's strange how each of her books deal with women in China and yet they're very distinct from each other. Peony in Love also has a pretty big focus on Chinese spiritual beliefs, which I knew next to nothing about and found really interesting.


  6. Vishy October 7, 2009 / 8:02 am

    Beautiful review! It was also interesting to read about your own experiences and the way you related to the book. The book seems to give an authentic historical view of China at a particular period. I liked the cover of the book too. It is beautiful. I haven't read any of Lisa See's books before. I think I will start now.
    I would like to add something about China here 🙂 I think that things have changed quite a bit in today's China. I think Chinese women are aware of their rights and are quite assertive now. If I can mention a couple of examples – when I went to the home one of my Chinese friends, in a small town in China, after dinner, the family gathered for a conversation. His mom (she was a farm worker) took out a packet of cigarettes and passed it around to her women relatives and they all smoked and had a pleasant conversation, while my friend's dad (he was a manager in a plant) cleared the dishes and started mopping the floor. It was an eye-opener for me. On another occasion, our Chinese teacher told us (I don't remember the context) that she is fierce (I think she meant assertive) at home and ensures that her husband listens to her. I have also seen Chinese women drive taxis and run their own businesses. So, I think, from what I have seen, China seems to have undergone quite a transition now.


  7. Bookishly Fabulous October 13, 2009 / 2:52 pm

    Catching up on my blog reading. 🙂
    I'll have to pick this one up. I just finished Shanghai Girls, which I loved, although not quite as much as Snow Flower. Her books seem to be extremely well researched so I always feel like I'm learning a lot even though it's fiction.


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