Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pg. 99: Lisa See's "Peony in Love"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Lisa See's Peony in Love.

About the book, from the author's website:
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, the lyrics from The Peony Pavilion mirror her own longings. In the garden of the Chen Family Villa, amidst the scents of ginger, green tea, and jasmine, a small theatrical troupe is performing choice scenes from this epic opera, a live spectacle few girls, even women, have ever seen. Like the heroine in the drama, Peony too is cloistered and from 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 the production: “Unmarried girls should not be seen in public.” But Peony's father prevails, assuring his wife that proprieties will be maintained. Women will watch the opera from behind a screen to hide them from view. Yet through its cracks, Peony catches sight of an elegant, handsome man with hair as black as a cave -- and is immediately overcome with too many emotions.

So begins Peony's unforgettable journey of love and destiny, desire and sorrow -- as Lisa See's haunting new novel takes readers back to 17th 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 are worshiped, misdeeds are punished, and hungry ghosts wander the earth.

Based on a true story, Peony in Love uses the richness and magic of the Chinese afterlife to transcend death and explore the many manifestations of love. Ultimately, it’s about universal themes: the bonds of female friendship, the power of words, the desire all women have to be heard, and finally those emotions that are so strong that they transcend time, place, and perhaps even death.

Among the early praise for Peony in Love:
“Engrossing…[a] thought-provoking meditation on what it means to be human.”
--People (Critic’s Choice)

“There are grand and stately themes here — the transcendence of love, the silenced voices of women, the subversive power of art… Peony in Love is a transporting read, to lost worlds earthly and otherwise.”
--Chicago Tribune

“A quietly beautiful tale that sneaks into the reader’s heart… Not since Susie Salmon of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones has a ghostly narrator been as believable and empathetic.”
--San Antonio Express-News

“See is gifted with a lucid, graceful style and a solid command of her many motifs.”
--New York Times Book Review

“Shakespearean in its themes and emotional depths.”
--St. Paul Pioneer Press

“See is a master storyteller, calling on her knowledge of history, myth, and current international events to craft intricate narratives that are at once edifying and evocative. In Peony in Love, she leads us on a literary adventure into the past that will have relevance to today’s readers who value drama, accuracy, and the lure of the written word.”
--Boston Globe

“Electrifying… A fascinating and often surprising story of women helping women, women hurting women, and women misunderstanding each other.”
--Miami Herald

“See transports the reader to a distant time and culture steeped in rituals and superstitions… A haunting book… The female writers who gasp for air are inspiring, as is the depth of a love that refuses to die, either on stage or in a young girl’s heart.”
--USA Today

“This novel belongs in your poolside bag. It is an ideal vacation book — suspenseful, romantic — that will keep you in your lounge chair for hours. At the same time, Peony in Love is far more than a delicious but ultimately lightweight beach read…See paints here a sweeping, authentically rendered portrait of family and society. She captures the spiritual, near-magical rituals of a culture, while showing the conflicts that such traditions are bound to foster.”
--Houston Chronicle
Read an excerpt from Peony in Love and learn more about the book and its author at Lisa See's website.

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain.

The Page 99 Test: Peony in Love.

--Marshal Zeringue