Friday, August 01, 2008
Books - Book Review - Peony in Love
I bought this novel months ago when Lisa See came to give a reading; I was saving it for the right time, which happened last weekend.
Lisa See mentioned that her previous work of fiction, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, she wrote about one part of China. Peony in Love takes place in Yangzi Delta. And there so many different regions in China, that she has countless sources for her next novels.
The Cataclysm (The Manchu invasion of the Ming Empire) happened a few years earlier. Women in some upper class families write, meet outside their homes to read each other's poems and writing, and even talk to men who are not in their immediate family circle!
However, Peony is still very protected, although she can write and read and spends time talking to her father.
Peony is about take part in her arranged marriage. But before this big event, her father, a former Ming subject, invites the local Manchu administrator and his entourage for a staging of the opera, Peony Pavilion. The production lasts three days (with breaks for eating and sleeping), and the women watch/hear behind a screen. (See explains the significance and influence of this opera in the body of the novel and in this version of the novel, in the Q&A section.)
Peony meets and talks (gasps) to a poet, who is also attending the opera. She sounds like a love-struck 17 year old teen when she lets the readers know "He was in my fingers, my heart..Each time petal-scented air came through my window, my emotions were thrown into turmoil."
But, the writer in her, a mature portion of herself, says, "A thousand years ago, the poet Han Yun wrote "All things not at peace will cry out." He compared the human need to express to the natural force that impelled plants to rustle in the wind or metal to ring when struck. With that I realized what I would do. It was something I had already worked on for years...My poet wanted my thoughts about the Seven Emotions; now I would find all these places in the Peony Pavilion that illustrated them...My project would be my salvation in the coming dark years. I may be locked in my husband's home, but my mind would travel to the Moon Viewing Pavilion, where I could meet my poet again and again without interruption."
Peony does finish her work and collaborates with two other writers, but not in the way I thought she would. The way she accomplished the critique is uniquely Chinese.
Peony has the feet. In this novel, See doesn't write too much about the actual binding process (read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan for the details), but she does mention why the husbands find the feet alluring and what they do with the feet. Peony does mention that sometimes the bones need to be filed down to maintain the shape.
I also learned that a home's occupants in counted by fingers, not persons. Peony's natal home has 940 or 94 people in the compound.
See also mentions the works of the Banana Garden Five, a women's writing group. I need to find out where I can get a copy of their works. Also, we learn why Peony's mother won't let her have as much freedom as these writers, even though she participated in writing groups a long time ago.
I really enjoyed reading this novel and if you pick it up, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.
P.S. I like to write down my favorite quotations from any novel that I read in my journals. I was so inspired by Peony's calligraphy that I decided to do my writing with a calligraphy pen. But, not only did it take longer for me to write it all down, some of the words were splotchy, because I didn't control the ink too well. Peony's mom would have been on my case for my handwriting!
Labels: Lisa See