Lisa See

"Peony in Love"

(Reviewed by Amanda Richards SEP 3, 2007)

The old theme of star-crossed lovers takes an Oriental twist in this historical period drama about a love-struck young girl, an enamored poet, and the opera that not only brings them together but casts them apart.

This story is about Peony, a young woman and only child of a wealthy family.  Set in seventeenth century China, when well brought up young women weren’t allowed to be seen or heard, especially by strange men, Peony’s father organizes a theatrical performance of the opera   “The Peony Pavilion,” and although her mother doesn’t want her to see it, arrangements are made for a screen to be erected, behind which the women can get a glimpse of the epic opera.  Peony is a big fan of “The Peony Pavilion,” having collected many editions, reading and memorizing many of the popular segments, but even though seeing it live is a big thrill, she becomes more interested in observing a young man sitting in the audience.

Risking her reputation, she wanders off on her own, and as fate would have it, she encounters the young man in an isolated place, where they discover that they enjoy each other’s company very much.  Unfortunately, Peony is already betrothed by way of an arranged marriage, and as the big day approaches she spends her days dreaming of the young man and obsessively recording her thoughts in an edition of the great opera, refusing food and ignoring the advice of the doctors and other experts that come to see her.  From this point her life takes a dramatic turn with a cruel twist, and the story and the opera fuse together in elaborate fashion, becoming a dark fantasy full of ghosts, superstition and tradition.

The author lingers over the historical details, the proud traditions, the poetry of the opera and the protocols of the afterlife, as well as other remarkable activities such as foot binding and embroidery,  and although this is an extremely poignant and melancholy book, it is so rich in description that you won’t want to put it down.  A dramatic, absorbing and informative story that will remain with you for a long time after you’ve finished reading it.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 163 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Peony in Love at author's website

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Bibliography: (with links to

Red Princess Mystery Series



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About the Author:

Lisa SeeLisa See was born in Paris but grew up in Los Angeles.

In addition to writing books, Ms. See was the Publishers Weekly West Coast Correspondent for thirteen years.  As a freelance journalist, her articles have appeared in Vogue, Self, and More, as well as in numerous book reviews around the country.

She wrote the libretto for Los Angeles Opera based on On Gold Mountain, which premiered in June 2000 at the Japan American Theatre followed by the Irvine Barclay Theatre.  She also 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., in 2001.  Ms. See then helped develop and curate the Family Discovery Gallery at the Autry Museum, an interactive space for children and their families that focuses on Lisa’s bi-racial, bi-cultural family as seen through the eyes of her father as a seven-year-old boy living in 1930s Los Angeles.

Ms. See serves as a Los Angeles City Commissioner on the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument Authority.  She was honored as National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women in 2001 and was the recipient of the Chinese American Museum’s History Makers Award in Fall 2003.

She lives in Los Angeles, California. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014