Saturday, October 30, 2010

181 (2010 #46). Peony in Love

by Lisa See,
read by  Jodi Long

I've had the paperback copy of this book sitting on my bookshelves for over two years, but it wasn't until I needed a short (it's abridged) audiobook to listen to between two month's book club selections that I decided to pick this one up.

Turned out to be a good selection for October, too.  An online group in whose discussions I often participate usually tries to pick something appropriate (horror or supernatural or both) for this month, and this book would have fit the bill, for the title character spends more than half of it as a "hungry ghost."

Set in 17th century China, almost-sixteen Peony is obsessed with The Peony Pavilion, an opera where the female protagonist, a lovesick girl, dies but is brought back to life by her lover.  Soon Peony finds her life paralleling that of the opera.  What makes this book really interesting is the way Lisa See incorporates the true story of "The Three Wives Commentary" on the opera (the first books written and published by women anywhere in the world) as the framework for her narrative.  An author's note provides the details.

Besides the fascinating research behind it, this historical fantasy also has a lot to say about love - romantic love and mother love- and contains some beautiful poetry:
In spring, moved to passion; in autumn, only regret.
The trees are bare.
In the distance, the honks of mourning geese.
If only my tears of blood could dye red the blossoms of the plum tree.
But I will never make it to spring.
My heart is empty and my life has no value anymore.
Each moment a thousand tears.

The audiobook was an author-approved abridged version read by Asian-American actress Jodi Long.  A very slight lisp became endearing in the voice of Peony, and her renditions of other, particularly older, Chinese women were quite amusing.  I'm looking forward to "re-reading" my paperback copy sometime for all the little details the abridgment left out.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.  My paperback copy of the book was sent to me by the Random House Readers' Circle after registering my book club with them.]

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