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Peony in Love

A Novel
By: Lisa See
Narrated by: Janet Song
Length: 13 hrs and 10 mins
4 out of 5 stars (537 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"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 novel, based on actual historical events, takes readers back to 17th-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, and 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.

©2007 Lisa See (P)2007 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“A complex period tapestry inscribed with the age-old tragedy of love and death.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“Electrifying... a fascinating and often surprising story of women helping women, women hurting women and women misunderstanding each other.” (The Miami Herald)

“See mines an intriguing vein of Chinese history... weaving fact and fiction into a dense romantic tapestry of time and place as she meditates on the meaning of love, the necessity of self-expression and the influence of art.” (Los Angeles Times)

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • D
  • Peekskill, NY, USA
  • 07-21-07

Eloquently written and read

Eloquently written and read I couldn't put this book down. Publishers Weekly sums the book up wonderfully: "Set in 17th-century China, See's fifth novel is a coming-of-age story, a ghost story, a family saga and a work of musical and social history."

It is rich in history, tradition and superstition. A friend of mine went home to China for a funeral several years back and I didn't fully understand (until now) all the things Chinese tradition believes you must to do to ensure your loved ones a safe and peaceful passage in death. A very interesting listen! As impacting, eye opening and enjoyable as Memoirs of a Geisha.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Unusual and excellent book

It actually began a little slowly with a focus on a love story which I typically find boring but then about an hour into the book it got very very interesting. I was spellbound and disappointed when it ended. It was a wonderful foray into the customs and spiritual world of early china.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Janice
  • LODI, CA, United States
  • 09-15-10

Intimate peek into Chinese culture

I had heard that this book was a bit slow and not as good as Lisa See's other writings, so I started reading Peony In Love expecting to be bored for the first half. I was surprised to find out that I loved the book from beginning to end. Peony in Love provides an intimate peek into the lives of Chinese women during the 17th century. This was a time of change for China when women struggled between following tradition and being basically "invisible" and their desire to explore the emotions and thoughts through writing, painting, etc. To follow the main character through life AND death gave me more of an understanding of the Chinese beliefs of the afterlife and why they follow many of the traditions that are still alive today. The love scenes were steamy and I found myself blushing in the cafeteria at work! While I found this book fascinating, I can understand why some may have found it lacking. If you do not like reading about Chinese history or tradition, you may not enjoy Peony Pavillion. See goes into great detail which may be a little tedious for some. Personally, I loved it.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Nancy
  • Northbrook, IL, USA
  • 08-06-07

Peony, a thoughtful encounter

When I started listening to this book, I wondered why I had selected it. I kept listening to it but about half-way through I nearly decided to give up on it and I wished I had selected the abridged version. It seemed senseless and boring. But just when I had given up hope of it ever becoming interesting, I began to understand what the book was really about.Part 2 was really the best part and I became completely involved in the story. Lisa See's addition to the end of the book was very interesting.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Worth Sticking It Out

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • 'Nathan
  • Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • 03-03-10

Gorgeous Cultural Story

Bringing a beautiful rendition of a love story set in the time of the Manchu Dynasty of seventeenth-century China, 'Peony in Love' is overflowing with culture, character, and poetry.

In the audiobook version, the reader brings a delicate balance between the dialog and internal monologue of the character telling the tale - Peony herself, who has fallen in love to a man she saw against all rules and tradition, even though she is bound to someone else. Peony's tale is full of woe and love, and told with a supernatural flair that reminded me of 'The Lovely Bones,' only set in another time and place, and had the depth of culture of 'Memoirs of a Geisha.'

The book is heavy with history, the pressure and oppression placed on women in the time period, and a truly selfless kind of love story that left me smiling, even amidst the seemingly endless despair.

The Author's Notes are very worthy as well - listen to them and you'll see just how much of See's book was based on historical evidence, and you'll likely gain new respect for the author, as I did, for the efforts she undertook.

All in all, an extremely worthwhile listening experience.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Wyonia
  • Perry Hall, MD, USA
  • 10-17-08

a lot of fun

this was a really fun listen; the narration is quite good and the story is a pleasure. a superb bit of light but interesting fiction.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Dennis
  • Washington, DC, United States
  • 08-22-07

Peony, A Shrinking Violet

Peony's themes are more important than the story, and better too. Once again, Lisa See opens up another well-kept Chinese secret; 17th century Chinese women used a small opening in the curtain that kept women bound to their men to write, form writing clubs, and be acknowledged as capable as men to produce serious literary criticism.
Most of the story is told through the eyes of a ghostwriter (pardon the pun) who assists her husband's next two wives to finish her commentaries on an opera called The Peony Pavillion. See's portrayal of ancient Chinese customs opens a new world to western readers, however, the constant repetition of Chinese maidens dying of lovesickness leaves one wondering if he picked up a book from the Young Adult section.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Tara
  • Fort Thomas, KY, USA
  • 08-05-07


I'm only listening to the end because I have invested 10+ hours in the book. Such a disappointment. I really enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and this does not, in any way, compare.

6 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

~courage to love and be heard~

I am writing my thoughts about the book that left a great impression on me and I know my words will be read by others. I owe the freedom to do so to my sisters from the 17th Century China, and especially to the three wives of a poet, to the three courageous souls who wrote and published the first ever book by women.

“Peony in Love” is a story of WOMEN as they were before feminism stepped in. They were wives and mothers and lovers and poets; devoted to their husbands and called to serve them above all; educated for the sake of holding an intelligent conversation and being “mates” to their men and mothers in law. It is a story of a young girl’s quest for love and freedom of sharing her word with others. Young Peony dies when waiting for an arranged marriage, writing down the commentary of her beloved book, “The Peony Pavilion”. Upon death, she becomes a “hungry ghost” tortured with love, unable to proceed to the after-world due to the un-dotted tablet, eager to make her poet Wu Ren happy and fulfilled with the best wife that she tries and succeeds, after all, to “create” and guide for him. And Peony is also so eager to finish her work, her commentary, in hopes that Wu Ren hears her through the words, written by her at the age of 16, and later finished by his two other wives.

To not retell the story, masterfully woven by Lisa See in delicate word-brushes of pink and purple and yellow words, just like the most delicate Chinese silk and other books by this outstanding writer, I say that this book is much more than a tale of love. It is a story of growing as a woman and growing as a generation of women; a story of devotion to your man and a story about the importance of all types of love: romantic, sexual, soul to soul connection, mother love, daughter love; the story of strong women who seem to be so fragile and peony-like, swaying on their lily-feet. The story that one does need all bravery to do what her heart tells her do, and the story of a brave and pure heart.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful