12. Peony in Love by Lisa See
I thought this was a sequel to Snowflower and the Secret Fan, so I started out very confused. It was fitting, however, since the main character, Peony, is perpetually confused. Towards the end, this grates on the reader, who can clearly see where she's wrong. It was a stark contrast with Princess Elisa of the Girl and Fire Thorn books (which I was reading concurrently), who is pointedly not the typical naive girl character.On the other hand, Peony's naivete extends to such an extreme, she becomes an archetype of her own: The Lovesick Maiden of Hangzhou.
Peony is representative of a historical cohort of women who fell in love with a fifteenth century opera, The Peony Pavilion, and, in imitation of the main character, wasted away from 'lovesickness.' In the sense that both books fictionalize Chinese women's history that is virtually unknown outside China (and I don't have a sense of how well it's known within), Peony is a sequel to Snowflower. Instead of illuminating the world of women's secret writing, Peony expounds on the published writings of women that flourished between the end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Mongol rule, specifically in the Yangtze delta area. Peony, the character and the book, shed some light on the lovesick phenomenon as well as work to dispel the myth that historical women didn't write or weren't published.