Blog Tour: 'Peach Blossom Pavilion' by Mingmei Yip (2014)
Today I'm really excited to be a part of the blog tour for Mingmei Yip's upcoming release 'Peach Blossom Pavilion'!
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. Surrounded by exotic flowers, murmuring fountains, colourful fishponds, and bamboo groves, Precious Orchid sees herself thriving. She is schooled in music, literature, painting, calligraphy, and to her innocent surprise, the art of pleasuring men. For the beautiful Pavilion hides its darker purpose as an elite house of prostitution. And even as she commands the devotion 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. And as the richest, most celebrated Ming Ji or "prestigious courtesan" in all of China, she just might have her way even if it comes with a devastating price...
Mingmei Yip’s novel ‘Peach Blossom Pavilion’ was originally published in 2008, but will be re-released by Avon on the 27th of March. When I was asked to be a part of the blog tour for this novel, I was immediately fascinated by the description of the book. I hadn’t read anything quite like it before (I’m one of those people who actually never read or saw ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, which this particular novel is often compared with), and I’m not quite sure whether I would have picked up ‘Peach Blossom Pavilion’ myself if I had seen it lying in a book shop. So, being part of this blog tour offered me the chance to try something new and delve into a previously completely unfamiliar world!
‘Peach Blossom Pavilion’ consists of the life story of an elderly Chinese woman named Xiang Xiang whose great-granddaughter helps her to write down her memoirs. As a thirteen-year-old girl growing up in China at the start of the 1900’s, Xiang Xiang was forced to live in her aunt’s prostitution house after her father was executed for a crime he did not commit and her mother decided to move into a nunnery. At first, life at the Peach Blossom Pavilion doesn’t seem too bad; Xiang Xiang is trained within the arts: music, painting, calligraphy, poetry, and she gets used to a certain amount of luxury. However, it doesn’t take long for the girl to realise all of this training and luxury has a goal; she is being prepared for the life of a Chinese courtesan. With her beauty and talents, Xiang Xiang eventually achieves the status of ming ji, one of the most prestigious prostitutes in the country, but her career has not brought her happiness and fulfilment. The reader is taken on a journey of Xiang Xiang’s life, which includes her hopes to leave Peach Blossom Pavilion one day, to finally avenge her father’s untimely death, and to hopefully find real love.
It didn’t take long, perhaps twenty pages or so, before I found myself wrapped up in Xiang Xiang’s story, and I really looked forward to picking up the book and continue reading about her life adventures. I thought the storyline was quite gripping with a remarkable heroine at its centre (all of it is narrated by Xiang Xiang herself), combined with a collection of fascinating secondary characters (one of my personal favourites was Pearl, one of the other prostitutes in the Peach Blossom Pavilion) set in an incredibly interesting setting. I didn’t know much about the ancient Chinese culture and the life and popularity of Chinese courtesans in particular, so this book taught me a lot while entertaining me at the same time.
Xiang Xiang’s life story has some universal elements at its core that will speak to many of us: learning to accept your past, making difficult decisions, finding and losing love, and most importantly, hope. While I thought Mingmei Yip’s writing was really strong at times, near the end certain passages became a bit too repetitive. Some might argue that the language used in the novel is occasionally quite aggressive and perhaps offensive, but I suppose that also fits the subject in a way. Overall, ‘Peach Blossom Pavilion’ is a thoughtful, seductive and remarkable read with a fascinating heroine at its core, and a book I personally couldn’t put down until I had reached the very last page!