I loved "Snowflower" and though very different, "Peony" was wonderful on so many levels. The culture, the history, the story itself. I was enchanted and have highly recommended it to my daughters. Janet Song brings incredible magic to the wonderful story. I'm on my way to listen to "Shanghai Girls."
This book is a story of life imitating art.
Peony becomes obsessed with the opera, "The Peony Pavillion" and with a young man she meets when her father stages a production of the opera. While she longs for her young poet, she knows that she is betrothed to another man and that she will never have more than the three meetings with the man she loves. She becomes love sick, and dies before her wedding, just like the main character in the opera. Can her poet and their love bring her back to life, just like story line of "The Peony Pavillion"?
I really like the point of view of this story. For most of the novel, the narrator is Peony's ghost. The afterlife believed by the Chinese is wonderfully portrayed by this story. Love doesn't die with death. Love continues on in the spirit world.
Not only does love continue in the spirit world, but also the desire to be heard. It is that desire that drives Peony more than the desire for love. That desire is what fuels her obsession with the opera and her project of writing a commentary on it.
I'll be thinking of this story for a while.
I thought the narrator was a bit breathy and it took me a while to get into her style. However, I appreciated her far more after I listened to the sample of the abridged audiobook.
I have read/listened to this book at least 4 times over the past few years. (Yes, I'm a re-reader.) There may be a few slow spots to get through (but I don't notice them anymore), but overall I find it wonderfully poetic, well-plotted, and highly informative as to the Chinese culture of the first Manchu era. The description of The Cataclysm is very, very well done, even if it is painful reading/listening.
I use part of this book in the Comparative Religion college course I teach because it really brings to life the complex afterlife beliefs of Chinese tradition -- and students always relax when we read something from a contemporary novel. (A nice change from all those primary texts and creation stories!)
I obtained (via Amazon) the English opera libretto of The Peony Pavilion and have been reading that along with this most recent listen to Peony in Love. Having done this tandem listen / read, I have even more appreciation or, perhaps, awe for See's accomplishment. What she has done is really pretty staggering, using the classic opera as a basis for the novel and having characters in the novel act in parallel to what happens to characters in the opera. The closest other book I can think of that affects me with such awe for sheer literary ability is A.S. Byatt's Possession. Yes, I listen to that every year, too.
Although tough to stick with at points, I'm glad I stayed through the end. This book is beautifully written and read perfectly, rich in detail and well-researched and constructed. So much of what I already knew of Chinese culture was put into context in a way that made it real for me. I wish I had heard the author's notes before I heard the book, however, because I know I would have appreciated it more had I realized as I was listening that it was a work of historical fiction that was actually based in fact, even though it would have given some of the story away. In any case, the characters have stayed with me - a sure sign of a good "read."
After reading two of See's other novels, I found this one difficult to listen to in the beginning. But stick with it -- it's heartbreakingly beautiful. Lisa See and Janet Song are a match made in heaven. The narration, as always, brings the characters to life.
This is a book that will entice and stimulate you. It is one of her best books. Get lost in her wonderful world. You will not regret it. Yeah I am a straight guy, not that that matters .
I almost didn't continue with this book, because it starts so slow and predictable. But it's well worth sticking it out. The story picks up pace, leads you on an unexpected and exciting journey, and I wished it had gone on for many more chapters. Learning about the culture was also amazing. Topics usually never discussed about China. Fabulous read!
I liked that this book dealt with the customs and beliefs of the Chinese afterlife. . . I just didn't realize it would do it quite the way it did. I too figured out the big "groom mystery" right away as another reviewer said.
I found this book to be very unusual. I still can't say that I really liked it. I enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan much more. I do, however, love the narration. Janet Song does an excellent job.
If you are deciding between Memoirs of a Geisha or Snow Flower and this one, I would say go with either of those before this one. I think not knowing more about the Asian afterlife traditions dampened my enjoyment of this book. I do think about it quite a bit, so it did make an impression, but in the end it was just too odd for my taste.
This was a strange book; it did not follow the same type format that I expected. There were unexpected twists and turns, and I kept getting irritated with the main character for not doing what I considered to be obvious (in our culture, not in hers). I found I liked it more after I had finished it- it was one of those books that you keep thinking about.