08-24-2007 10:17 AM
Lisa See and Peony in Love
“I finally understand what the poets have written. In spring, moved to passion; in autumn only regret.”
For young Peony, betrothed to a suitor she has never met, these lyrics from The Peony Pavilion mirror her own longings. In the garden of the Chen Family Villa, amid the scent of ginger, green tea, and jasmine, a small theatrical troupe is performing scenes from this epic opera, a live spectacle few females have ever seen. Like the heroine in the drama, Peony is the cloistered daughter of a wealthy family, trapped like a good-luck cricket in a bamboo-and-lacquer cage. Though raised to be obedient, Peony has dreams of her own.
Peony’s mother is against her daughter’s attending the production: “Unmarried girls should not be seen in public.” But Peony’s father assures his wife that proprieties will be maintained, and that the women will watch the opera from behind a screen. Yet through its cracks, Peony catches sight of an elegant, handsome man with hair as black as a cave -- and is immediately overcome with emotion.
So begins Peony’s unforgettable journey of love and destiny, desire and sorrow -- as Lisa See’s haunting new novel, based on actual historical events, takes readers back to seventeenth-century China, after the Manchus seize power and the Ming dynasty is crushed.
Steeped in traditions and ritual, this story brings to life another time and place -- even the intricate realm of the afterworld, with its protocols, pathways, and stages of existence, a vividly imagined place where one’s soul is divided into three, ancestors offer guidance, misdeeds are punished, and hungry ghosts wander the earth. Immersed in the richness and magic of the Chinese vision of the afterlife, transcending even death, Peony in Love explores, beautifully, the many manifestations of love. Ultimately, Lisa See’s new novel addresses universal themes: the bonds of friendship, the power of words, and the age-old desire of women to be heard.
About Lisa See: Lisa See has always been intrigued by stories that have been lost, forgotten, or deliberately covered up, whether in the past or happening right now in the world today. Her first book, On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family, traced the journey of her great-grandfather, Fong See, who overcame obstacles at every step to become the 100-year-old godfather of Los Angeles's Chinatown and the patriarch of a sprawling family. For Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, she traveled to a remote area of China - where she was told she was only the second foreigner ever to visit - to research the secret writing invented, used, and kept a secret by women for over a thousand years.
Lisa's new novel once again delves into forgotten history. Peony in Love takes place in 17th-century China in the Yangzi River delta. It's based on the true story of three "lovesick maidens," who were married to the same man - one right after the other, not one reaching age twenty. Together they wrote the first book of its kind to have been written and published anywhere in the world by women.
In addition to writing books, Lisa wrote the libretto for Los Angeles Opera based on On Gold Mountain, and served as guest curator for an exhibit on the Chinese-American experience for the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, which then traveled to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. She was honored as National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women and was the recipient of the Chinese American Museum's History Makers Award.
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