Peony in Love: A Novel, by Lisa See and Jodi Long (Narrator)
As her 16th birthday approaches, Peony can hardly contain her excitement. Her father has arranged to have the famous opera, The Peony Pavilion, performed in their garden in her honor. Unlike most of the women of the time, she is well read and is obsessively familiar with the tragic love story of The Peony Pavilion. Although she has never been permitted to leave the grounds of her 17th century Chinese home, when she spots a handsome young man at her father's performance, she slips outside to meet him. Since she's been promised to another in an arranged marriage since childhood, she realizes he can never be hers. She mourns her fate and instead of becoming a happy bride, she becomes a lovesick maiden who wanders for decades as a hungry ghost.
Lisa See's Peony in Love parallels the events in the 16th-century opera, The Peony Pavilion. Peony, the lovesick girl of the novel is, in fact, based on a real character who was one of the authors of The Three Wives Commentary, published centuries ago and still read today. In telling this story, Lisa See provides a richly informative omnibus of Chinese history, culture, traditions, religion, beliefs and values. From the violence of the Manchu destruction of the Ming dynasty and graphic descriptions of the agonizing process of foot binding to jasmine scented gardens graced by lovely maidens, See creates a symphony of sounds and emotions. Narrator Jodi Long makes Peony exist for the listener, giving her first person account believability and compassion. As Peony relates the other characters' conversations Long adjusts expertly, so that it seems that many voices are heard as Peony might have remembered them.
This book is highly recommended on many levels. It is a detailed and carefully researched source of Chinese history, ritual and culture. It unveils a previously little known literary fact-although women were shielded from society in 17th-century China, they comprised the biggest group of published female writers in the world at the time. Peony in Love is a beautiful love story that explores the power of words and a belief in the afterlife, as it deals with romantic obsession, familial duty, and eternal devotion. Rarely do books inform, entertain, intrigue and beguile so seamlessly. This one is a delight for the mind, the heart and the senses.