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 ones 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, its 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.