Apr 30, 08
Read in April, 2008
I'll skip over the plot summary since so many other reviewers have already covered those details. I loved the character of Peony and watching her grow from this young girl chafing at the bonds of traditional familial responsibility to a woman who more fully understands the true nature of love and life. See's exploration of the nature of love from a schoolgirl crush to lust to companionship was very well illustrated and touching. I found the description of the female life in dynastic China and Chinese beliefs of the afterlife absolutely fascinating. See's description of the foot-binding process is horrifying, but the fact that mothers actually did this to their daughters is even more so. I also loved the underlying plotline of women during this era finding their own voice - the fact that it all revolves around The Peony Pavilion, which was actually written by a man (Xianzu Tang), didn't bother me. Instead, my interpretation of See's novel was that Peony and the other female poets were saying that Tang had it all wrong and was offering only the male perspective of tragic love and an idealized version of the lovesick maiden. Let's face it - Peony is a lovesick maiden. See's unusual storyline of following Peony's tragic romance through the eyes of her ghost serves to show the lovesick maiden at her most generous and beautiful, as well as at her most manipulative and malevolent - definitely a contrast to the lovesick maiden Du Liniang in The Peony Pavilion. Overall, I loved this book and will now go check out See's other work.