Peony is a lovesick maiden in China during the 1600s. Meaning, she read a play called The Peony Pavilion and then, like the main character in the play, starved herself to death for want of love. The first half of the book details Peony’s life until her death. The second half details Peony’s journey to becoming an ancestor after her death.
On the one hand, I appreciate See’s ability to explain the traditions and beliefs of a culture vastly different from my own through story. Unfortunately, I found every one of the characters to be so unlikable that reading the story was a chore. I initially thought that it was just that the culture was so foreign to me, but I don’t remember feeling this way while reading Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. I’m interested to try a different author writing about the same time period.
Strangely, the most engaging part of the book is the author’s note, where See likens The Peony Pavilion to Gone with the Wind and describes the effect the author and his play had on women during his time.