EAST MEETS WEST COAST: FROM PAGE 67
says. “It just kind of came my way.” The Lincoln Center was set to mount the Chinese opera, The Peony Pavilion, all 25 hours of it, for the first time in 200 years, but the Chinese government would n’t let the singers, costumes and props leave the country. Because of her back ground, Vogue asked her to write a history about the opera, and that’s when she came across the tales of the lovesick maidens.
“The belief was that the words of the opera were so powerful that they would cause maidens to die,” she says. In China, women could read but were not allowed to see the opera, which tells of a girl who falls in love with a man in her dreams. The main character eventual ly dies of lovesickness, but not before she leaves behind a portrait of herself to be discovered by her dream lover.
Eventually her dream lover finds her and brings her back to life. In Peony in Love, a young betrothed woman, Peony, becomes obsessed with the opera and a man she meets during a staging of it in her father’s garden. She becomes lovesick and spends her days writing about love and the meaning of life in the margins of the opera, hoping that her stranger will one day read these words and find her. In the end she wastes away and dies, only to discover that the stranger she loved was really the man she was supposed to marry. She spends the rest of the novel as a spirit in the Chinese afterlife, looking down on her stranger and provoking his future wives to com plete her commentary on The Peony Pavilion.
See finds love, history and family to be major themes in all of her works. “The thing is we experience a lot of emotions, but love is the one thing we all long for, the one thing we all want and need,” she says. “Love evolves and changes over time. We have one word to describe this emotion, but in Chinese they have many, many different words. Like gratitude love, respectful love, mother love…” See also wants us to look to the past when we think we’ve changed or gotten past certain things.
“Things that have happened in the past, secrets and tragedies, have a trickle down effect that affect the whole family,” she says. “That happened in my own fami ly. We may not know what those things were but they do have an effect on us. They make us the people that we are.” ©
“A lot of people will go to a movie or play tennis in their spare time but I live pretty near UCLA and I would go over to the research library to see what I could see.” — Lisa See