Young Peony lives an isolated life within the women's chambers of the Chen Family Villa in China. She knows little of the outside world, and while it is generally frowned upon in her culture for women to read, she delights in the books and stories her scholarly father shares with her. Her favorite is a play, The Peony Pavilion, which her father arranges to have performed in the family courtyard! Peony will have the rare chance to sit behind a curtain and hear the play as it is performed, although women are not allowed to actually watch the show. During a lull in the play, Peony wanders through the garden, and meets a young man, a poet, who captures her heart. Yet she despairs – because she is already betrothed to marry an unknown suitor!
The author follows Peony's emotional journey as her path unfolds throughout the rest of the book. As always, Lisa See incorporates Chinese history. The story takes place in the seventeenth century, after the Manchus took control from the Ming dynasty. She also shares Chinese superstitions and folklore, as well as lesser known female writers of the day and the important role they played in inspiring women of that era. Now, thanks to See's diligent research, women all over the world can appreciate these brave poets' works today, as they read Peony in Love.
What woman does not remember the first stirrings of love in their hearts, and the first feelings of passion that awoke during their teenage years? This book is a treasure, not just for its value from a historical fiction perspective, but like See's other books, for its rich tapestry of feminine emotion. Neither time, nor geography, nor status can take away these things that all women hold in common – matters of the heart.
This book was published in 2007 through Random House. ISBN: 978-1-4000-6466-3. The suggested retail price for the hardcover edition was $23.95 in the US, or $29.95 in Canada. I borrowed my copy from the local library. The book has a very nice author's note once the story comes to its conclusion, briefly detailing how Lisa See came to write the story and about the historical background of the characters and the setting in which they were placed. An excellent novel that I would read again!