Book Review: Peach Blossom Pavilion by Mingmei Yip

peachblossomA seductive and evocative debut that opens the doors on life as a Chinese courtesan in the Peach Blossom Pavilion…

Behind the doors of the pavilion, a world of sensuality and intrigue awaits…

Xiang Xiang’s life as an innocent girl is about to change beyond recognition.

Falsely accused of murder, Xiang Xiang’s father is executed, and her mother forced into a Buddhist nunnery. Xiang Xiang, alone and friendless at thirteen years old, is tricked into entering the Peach Blossom Pavilion, where she is given the name Bao Lan – Precious Orchid.

There she is trained in the fine arts of womanhood, studying music, literature, painting, and more importantly, the art of seduction and pleasuring men; and becomes one of China’s most successful courtesans.

However, Precious Orchid is determined to avenge her parents and sets out on a journey that includes passion, adventure, danger, fame, and finally, her chance to achieve the justice she has sought so long.

Received in ebook format from Netgalley, this is a first person narrative of the 13year old Xiang Xiang who ends up as a prostitute in China in the early part of the 20th century.  She learns not only the ways of the bedroom, but also the cultural arts, and rarely forgets her mother or her dead father.

Over the next few decades she tells of her life as she develops some self awareness as to what she does and doesn’t want, and tries to find some peace with her life and her choices.

There is little reference to events in the outside world and the large political events affecting either China and it’s only in the last portion of her life that the outside world breaks in.  There is *some* reference to the physical work Xiang Xiang does as a prostitute, but much of it is couched in the euphemisms of the time and place so little to offend (but there is some more base swear words).

As she moves to each new section of her life Xiang Xiang both gains and loses something (or someone) – something she seems to do with relative ease.  She spends several years in a lesbian relationship, and drops that as soon as she comes across a Taoist monk who she then falls madly in love with and spends a year with only to drop him in favour of the lesbian.  Few years later, they part and Xiang Xiang’s lover is almost never thought of again – her death at the hands of their mutual enemy is written in the epilogue, almost as an afterthought.

So in summary: the book is technically competent, with an interesting story that could have had some more depth around the characters and plot – there is a taste and acceptance for longer books regarding China, by Chinese authors (Wild Swans anyone?) so would have lost little to nothing in additional items being added.

Author Website

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