Beyond FICTION: PEONY IN LOVE by Lisa See
Peony takes place in late-17th-century China, a time of immense changes following the Manchu overthrow of the Ming regime. The main character, a girl named Peony, tells of the tremendous impact of that violent regime change on her family through stories she’s heard since childhood…and stories she learns after her death. While Peony in Love delves into the afterworld in more ways than one, it’s much more than a ghost story set in China. Lisa See’s stunning imagery, detailed portraits, and intricate ability to present varying points of view (despite the limitations of first-person narration) lead to an intricate study of complex relationships. Each character is treated with such care that revelations about their personalities and motivations come as complete surprises coupled with complete plausibility. Shifting understandings and realities that occur within a family over generations marked alternatively by prosperity and despair are presented in a scope accomplished through shifts of reality not only within life on earth but within an existence beyond earthly understanding.
Chinese traditions, foods, observances, beliefs, rituals, and rules from long ago fuel the plot of Peony in Love, but so do the strength of Chinese women and the ancient desire of all women to express their unique views and experiences despite the many demands and restrictions history has placed upon them. A celebration of these traditions and of true stories from China regarding love-sick maidens and the lengths they endured to pursue love and learning and self-autonomy combine to make Peony in Love a highly original, cherished work of art.
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