It’s time to take a break from the mysteries. I’ve read a lot of them lately, and this blog isn’t supposed to be dedicated solely to mystery novels. Besides, my brain is tied in knots from trying to figure out who did it!
Today’s review is another of Lisa See’s books. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was the first Lisa See book I read, and I found it to be a qualified success. I decided to give her another try and picked up a copy of Peony in Love.
I enjoyed this book much more than Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It is as much a discussion of love and women’s need to express themselves as it is a fictional story. It revolves around The Peony Pavilion , a real opera written in 1598 about a girl who falls in love with a man she sees in a dream. She literally dies from love sickness. (Because we all know that true love means you can’t eat!) She visits her lover in his dreams and eventually is resurrected because of the love he feels for her. That is a very rough outline of the opera’s story.
Nominally it is the story of Peony, a sixteen year old girl in seventeenth century China, who accidentally meets the perfect man during the performance of The Peony Pavilion opera at her house. She falls in love with this stranger, but has already been betrothed to another. She has three gloriously clandestine meetings with this perfect man over three nights while he is a guest in her house.
When the opera is over Peony is driven to write a commentary on the opera as a way to stay connected to her stranger. She begins to waste away as love sickness takes it toll. Unfortunately for Peony she dies before she even really gets the chance to live, mimicking the opera. She spends the next two decades as a hungry ghost and learning the true meaning of love.
The history behind the story is fascinating. I hadn’t known that there was a time period when women in China were published authors and respected poets. This book is actually partly based on a book published in 1694 that was titled The Three Wives Commentary. It was a thorough and comprehensive examination of The Peony Pavilion written and published by women. The Author’s Note at the back of the book reveals the story behind her story.
In the book Peony struggles to accept the differences what she perceived while alive and the realities after her death. Peony thinks her father hosts the opera in honor of her birthday, when in reality it was the opening of a bid to become more influential and powerful. Her perceptions of the reality of the opera affect her to the point of death and haunt her after her death.
As I read this book I found myself thinking about how easy it is to be blindsided by our perceptions when reality can be quite different. That perfect family at church has hidden sorrows and pains. The man down the street with all the latest technology and new cars, he’s overwhelmed by debt and can’t sleep at night. The woman who has so many talents couldn’t possibly suffer from low self-esteem. The list could go on.
Learning to see beyond our perceptions is something each of us has to learn to truly connect with others. When Peony finally discovers this she learns about real love and its tremendous power. It is up to each of us to do the same.
I don’t remember there being much in the way of foul language in this book. It’s a little weird when Peony is a ghost and interferes in the bedroom. Other than that, this is a great book with a lot to think about if you so choose.