In Nineteenth Century China, In A Remote Hunan County, A Girl Named Lily, At The Tender Age Of Seven, Is Paired With A Laotong, Old Same, In An Emotional Match That Will Last A Lifetime The Laotong, Snow Flower, Introduces Herself By Sending Lily A Silk Fan On Which She S Painted A Poem In Nu Shu, A Unique Language That Chinese Women Created In Order To Communicate In Secret, Away From The Influence Of MenAs The Years Pass, Lily And Snow Flower Send Messages On Fans, Compose Stories On Handkerchiefs, Reaching Out Of Isolation To Share Their Hopes, Dreams, And Accomplishments Together, They Endure The Agony Of Foot Binding, And Reflect Upon Their Arranged Marriages, Shared Loneliness, And The Joys And Tragedies Of Motherhood The Two Find Solace, Developing A Bond That Keeps Their Spirits Alive But When A Misunderstanding Arises, Their Deep Friendship Suddenly Threatens To Tear Apart For my entire life I longed for love I knew it was not right for me as a girl and later as a woman to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life What a sad yet beautiful book this was I adore historical fiction that can really immerse me in another time and place and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan did just that Transported back to 19th century China, I believe I arrived at a better understanding of a woman s position in this society I learned what it was like to be a daughter, a sister, a wife and a daughter in law I am admittedly grateful for not ever having to experience these often overwhelmingly harsh relationships in the way that these women did Not for an instant can I imagine having to yearn for my mother s love with the feeling that it was something impossible to attain And, I most certainly could not fathom bending to my mother in law s every command and needing to act as a lowly visitor in her home even as the wife of her own son The cultural practice of footbinding was truly horrific and cringeworthy If you, like me, decide to google any images, please consider yourself forewarned that it really does look as awful and disfiguring as you would no doubt imagine Yet, a young girl s future and her marriageability depended heavily on the result of this archaic practice The one relationship that I found endearing and one that transcends both time and culture is that of a true friendship This is so beautifully demonstrated in the bond between the narrator, Lily, and Snow Flower, her old same Lisa See really brings to life the nuances of their lifelong friendship which began as little girls with a contract sealing their fates in a laotong relationshipA laotong match is as significant as a good marriage A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose to have sonsWe see the girls grow up together and experience the joys of childhood friendship laughing, dreaming, and mourning together The women s secret form of writing, or nu shu, begins with the communication between the little girls on the folds of a special fan that will provide a chronicle of their extraordinary relationship throughout their lives As married women, they experience both the happiness and the sorrow of giving birth and living under the heavy thumbs of their husbands and mothers in law in households that scorn rather than cherish them And, as with some friendships, these women experience the differences in social standings within a community and suffer from misunderstandings and ultimate betrayal Can a friendship really withstand anything This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in the culture of China during this period and those that enjoy reading about the various connections between women If you ve ever had a true friend, this book will truly speak to you and perhaps make you just a tad nostalgic about the carefree days when you could hope and giggle with your own bestie. My grandmother used to say that my big feet meant I had a good foundation I d stare longingly at her size six feet when she said this and curse my genetic inheritance from elsewhere in the family tree Then I had an ex boyfriend make the infuriating statement that rich women have small feet I pointed out that his celebrity crush, Paris Hilton yeah, another reason I dumped him has huge size eleven feet My teenage self took a lot of comfort in the fact that foot size is pre ordained and unchangeable Clown sized feet can strike the smart, the rich, the beautiful And there isn t a damned thing they or I could do about it.Then I read this book and learn it is possible to change your foot size It s called foot binding And you know what I ll pass I enjoy being able to wiggle my toes and jump around So, thank you, Lisa See For once in my life, I am content with my big feet And I owe it all to your graphic descriptions of this ancient Chinese method Blood, putrefaction, pain, breaking bones, risk of death I cannot believe those women were subjected to such brutal mutilation for the sake of beauty Then they were still expected to clean the house perched on those tiny, unstable feet.The foot binding portion of the book was the highlight for me The inspiration for the book was nu shu, a written language developed by Chinese women and kept secret from men for hundreds of years Yawn I didn t find that part of the story very compelling or even believable Didn t men wonder why the ladies kept ink and brushes in their room Beyond the foot biding event and nu shu device, this was really a story about a female friendship that was deep and even erotic at times Putting aside any problems with the plot, their emotions toward each other were complex and meaningful There was hope and joy, but mostly there was pain During an event with Lisa last night, she spoke of how depressing writing can be She doesn t always wake up raring to write Instead she may dread knowing she has to go to a dark, internal place to write about a character s death or betrayal Even worse, she may have to stay in that mindset for days or weeks until that section is completely written I spend so much time glamorizing a writer s lifestyle that I had not fully considered how emotionally draining it could be I suspected the career engenders self doubt Will people like what I ve written Yet, I had never thought about the struggle Lisa described to create and inhabit the internal emotional environment necessary to produce the actual words.I commend Lisa for giving us a realistic look at the treatment of and expectations for women in that day and age Women were isolated and undervalued Their worth was determined solely by whether they could produce sons But honestly, my main complaint about the book is how depressing it was I kept waiting for some great act of heroism Yet the women stuck to their traditional roles The main character not only repeated the indoctrination, she believed it My role in life is to obey, obey, obey Sure, they rebelled in small ways, but always within the confines of their societal roles I kept routing for one character to leave an abusive husband or, at very least, stand up to her oppressive mother in law Normally I criticize authors for deviating from historical facts in order to cater to a modern readership This time, I think Lisa stayed so true to the setting that she turned me off And her heavy handed foreshadowing didn t help Life was hard for women back then I get it But does that make for an enjoyable read Not really And I think that was my problem I had the wrong expectations as I entered this book It wasn t a sprawling historical epic, filled with exciting action, heart fluttering romance, and distant voyages like Shogun one of the few other historical fictions I have read that are set in Asia It was a largely quiet book about quiet life Lisa herself admitted she writes sad books And when she started this book, no one thought it would be successful China Women Gloom No one will read that Well, she proved them wrong Lots of people read it Heck, I read it Evenpeople will probably see the movie.And it s worth reading It made me appreciate the freedom women enjoy today, as well as the potential depth of female friendship Not to mention, I m looking down at my feet right now and thinking, hell yeah, that s one beautiful, ergonomic piece of evolution and just the right size. An Excellent Choice for Book Clubs I had a hard time putting down this book and felt utterly transported to a village in the Hunan province in central south China during the early to mid nineteenth century The narrator, 80 year old Lily, who refers to herself as one who has yet to die, tells the story of her life She has outlived her family members and relates the story of her formative years and her relationship with another woman, Snow Flower This well written tale is related with clarity, sentiment, and most poignantly, remorse It s through remorse that the reader comes to know the true character of Lily, as she reflects upon a misunderstanding she had with her one true love.Beyond the reflection of Lily s relationship with Snow Flower, a girl she meets at the age of six when they are introduced by the local matchmaker and tied by contract to forever be known as laotongs, or old sames, this story provides a lesson in Chinese history and culture Many have heard of the tradition of feet binding, but through Lisa See s writing, one experiences the excruciating pain and the meaning behind a mother s duty to bind her worthless daughters feet It s all about marriage and, of course, sex At once I went to the Internet to look for images of bound feet because I had a terribly hard time visualizing a foot only seven centimeters in length.I enjoyed every minute of reading this story and I highly recommend it I think it would make an excellent selection for book clubs, given the vast number of elements to spark topics of conversation Chinese culture past and present Mother daughter relationships Foot binding Arranged marriage Female relationships Lesbian relationships Chinese history Chinese foods Chinese geography, etc. I ended up enjoying this book because it was so beautifully written and it took me deep into a world so unlike my own thank goodness for that This story takes place in China s Hunan Province in the 1800s and isabout the inner lives of the women than the men I had a complete misconception of what foot binding entailed It s completely different, and so muchbrutal a practice than I ever could have imagined There were also many examples given of what I consider other horrendous customs and beliefs I ve always believed that tradition and culture that harms is not worth preserving and reading about these people s lives was a painful experience The story is fiction but well researched so I m assuming there was much truth about how women led their lives in that time and place I was able to feel some empathy for the storywriter, because I could understand her longing to be loved and the difficulties she had in her upbringing that formed her personality, even though I sometimes had a hard time liking her and many of the characters I was also irritated by so much of the book I loathe stories where there s a horrible miscommunication or misunderstanding that seems so unnecessary, and there s an example of that here Also, throughout the book, the narrator is writing the story of her life for another others in her culture to read, yet the whole time I felt she was educating us in our time places So frequently the line as you know or as everyone knows is used to start a sentence, and I just kept thinking that if everyone knows it the narrator wouldn t need to say it in that way The narrator also most of the way through the book alludes to something she s going to tell the reader and it got to the point where, instead of following along with the story, I just wanted to see what she was going to reveal.I think that it s worth it to read the paperback copy because of Lisa See s notes at the end about the writing of this book, Perhaps they were there in the hardcover version as well, but often additions such as this aren t there at publication of the hardcover edition Also, the paperback has some discussion questions at the end which might come in handy as I read this book for my book club.The plot characters did make me think about however women are regarded and what is considered beautiful in various cultures, including our own, can powerfully influence women s lives And they also highlight how our various expectations of ourselves and others imposed by our societies can influence human beings It also made me think a lot about the corrosive power of unresolved anger and trauma. I tried to read it It was so non compelling, who were these little mice of women, what were they up to, why should I care MAKE ME CARE The plot didn t, the characters didn t and so I couldn t get past about page 50 My mind kept drifting off and by the time I was conscious of reading again I wouldn t know what had happened so I had to reread it again and again up unto the fourth rereading of the same pages Exactly the same experience I had with Rushdie s Satanic Verses So I gave up I thought it was probably me and not the book, so I downloaded the film Lord, was it bad or what Exactly the same experience, it wasn t anyinteresting It s an experience I m not going to have with the Satanic Verses though I doubt there s a director still alive brave enough to make a film of that book. This has got to be one of the most beautiful, yet heartbreaking books that I have ever read The subject matter is horrific but the story is truly engaging.The main storyline in this book is about the horrible patriarchal practise, foot binding, that took place in China in the past The graphic descriptions in this book are certain to turn anyone s stomach I would like to know who decided that 7 centimetre long feet were sexy The obsession with feet truly perplexed me how could young men know nothing about their future betrothed wives except what size their feet were Obviously foot binding was a practice to control women, which was a point I made to a feminist I was talking to when a man suddenly interrupted our conversation and accused us of waging a war against men Also, it s so sad how culturally women were undervalued in Chinese society They suffered so much abuse and, from a very young age, they were cultivated for marriage because, after all, all women were good for was for giving birth to sons Everything they did was to prepare them for marriage yet when they eventually married their in laws weren t even satisfied and everyone was miserable What s the point Excuse my sarcastic tone but I cannot wrap my head around how awful this part of Chinese history is Instead of protecting women in society, women were made to feel worthless and their lives are also put into peril It was truly heartbreaking Lisa See brilliantly captured the reality of Chinese life in the past I also thought that part of the book about the laotang and sisterhood was lovely, as well as the parts about the secret writing, and the art of storytelling Definitely a great book but not one that I d ever read again, it s too distressing. I actually wavered between giving this book a rating of 3 or 4 stars This is not because Lisa See was unable to portray the life in this feudal Chinese society well, because much of this was vivid and interesting The oppression of women, including the horrors of footbinding, isolation and servitude to men and one s in laws were all clearly and often dismayingly illustrated.One problem with this novel is how much better the tale could have been related if written in the third person, rather than the use of Lily as narrator After learning throughout this book that she was a sensitive, caring, pledged lifelong friend she becomes a cruel,selfish and judgemental harridan to Snow Flower These very factors were so antithetical to what was supposed to have been developed between these two women and what they had always professed would be their relationship, that it was difficult to continue the reading with the same attitude of enjoyment and appreciation I often found that See did not work hard enough to develop either her plot lines or her characters She often glossed over some segments, seemingly in order to reach her next period of time.Despite these criticisms, I found this book often compelling with a level of anticipation for the reader. I had high hopes for this book, but ended up feeling deflated and disappointed Two aspects of the book were interesting descriptions of the practice of Chinese footbinding, and an exploration of nu shu, the written language Chinese women developed to communicate exclusively with each other Unfortunately, the book also has two major problems a boring story, and the use of cheap gimmicks instead of complex characterization The story deals with two girls who are matched as old sames, sort of a best girlfriend relationship that is meant to last for life Unfortunately, the story of their friendship is just not compelling, and I kept feeling like the author missed the opportunity to tell a really interesting story within the context of the world she creates Aside from being boring the worst sin in fiction I was also disappointed with the way she handled the intimacy of the friendship between the two women, using what I call the cheap and easy Hollywood method for showing intimacy In other words, she introduces sexual elements to show us just how close these two women really are, rather than really taking us inside the complex world that is the relationship between two best girlfriends I thought it was a really shallow treatment of a very deep subject It was hugely disappointing.I don t recommend it. Ever since reading Memoirs of a Geisha, I ve been looking for a book that will let me relive that excitement So I was hoping that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan would fit the bill for my craving for Asian drama I would have to say that this book did not I found it difficult to get invested in the characters who seemed somewhat flat to me The narrator wasn t engaging enough to make me feel a connection to her Really, the strength of the book in my opinion was the detail it spent in developing an understanding of the cultural issues surrounding Chinese women and the custom of footbinding Which, of course, is horrible mutilation to a woman living in the 21st century Western world, but was the very epitome of beauty and sexual turn on for 19th century Chinese So I would say it gets an A for effectively fleshing out that cultural way of life, but probably just a B for characters I wanted to careabout them than I did, but when the book was over, I wasinterested in Googling pictures of bound feet than mourning the loss of their friendship and the misunderstandings that undid the two main characters.
Lisa See is a Chinese American author Her books include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan 2005 , Dragon Bones, and On Gold Mountain She was named the 2001 National Woman of the Year, by the Organization of Chinese American Women She lives in Los Angeles.
- 269 pages
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
- Lisa See
- 01 February 2019 Lisa See