Peach Blossom Pavilion by Mingmei Yip.
When Precious Orchid’s father is falsely accused of a crime and found guilty, he is executed, leaving his family a legacy of dishonour. Her mother’s only option is to enter a Buddhist nunnery, so she gives her daughter over to the care of her sister in Shanghai. At first, life at Peach Blossom Pavilion feels like a dream. She is schooled in music, literature, painting, calligraphy, and the art of pleasuring men. The beautiful Pavilion has a darker purpose as an elite house of prostitution. And even as she gets attention of China’s most powerful men, Precious Orchid never gives up on her dream to escape the Pavilion, be reunited with her mother, avenge her father’s death, and find true love.
This isn’t a book I would pick up just from browsing book shelves in a shop but I am glad we were given the opportunity to take part in the blog tour. I do want to add that the cover is beautiful. From the beginning of this book, I was intrigued. It starts off with an elderly woman retelling the story of her life to her great-granddaughter.
The thirteen year old Xiang Xiang is forced into child prostitution and this book is an open account of what it was like at that time for young chinese women. I did want to keep reading and couldn’t put the book down although, for me, there were a couple of areas of the book that seemed to drag and repeat and it was maybe a little hard going to get through at times ( i think some of this was my reaction to the subject matter. Some of it was hard to read.) Despite this, I still managed to read it in a weekend and I did want to get to the end to see what became of the characters.
I liked the supporting characters like Pearl. The mistress of Peach Blossom Pavilion was a larger than life villain. I wanted to see certain characters take responsibility for their behaviour.
From the other reviews I have seen, one person described this as “not a book to enjoy, but be intrigued by,” and I think I would have to agree. The subject matter and the experiences that Xiang Xiang goes through aren’t things to enjoy reading about but her story was a compelling one and I did want to see how she got from the despair of the Peach Blossom Pavilion to an elderly lady in the United States. She is forced to grow up quickly and does go through a lot of hard times, personal tragedies and losses and yet she does manage to stay strong and I liked that about her. Her transformation from a naive thirteen year old to an experienced woman was interesting.
Mingmei’s descriptive prose was wonderful. The story is told from Xiang Xiang’s first person narrative and it helped me to get into her head, attempt to understand her confusion and to learn about what the culture was like in the early 1900’s.
Overall, it was compelling and I am still thinking about it after I’ve finished the book. I don’t think I can say I loved it because of what Xiang Xiang went through but I certainly didn’t hate it. I can see why it’s been compared to Memoirs of a Geisha and if you liked that, then I recommend this.
Peach Blossom Pavilion is released by Avon and is available in Paperback on 27th March.