Monday, October 13, 2008

BOOK: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, 253 pages

around the world: China

I wanted to read this one during the Olympics but everyone else must have had that idea as it was highly requested at my library the past month. Once I got the book, I read it in two days. I've never read anything set in China, or anything about this culture. The extent of my exposure to ancinet China would be the movie Mulan.

It's all about women, and women in Chinese culture. Set in the mid-1800s, Lily is writing down her life story. It focuses on nu shu, an ancient secret language that women used exclusively to communicate amongst themselves. As Lily looks back on the events of her life, we are shown a world that stayed pretty isolated for a long time. The description of the foot binding process will stay with me for a long time, but also the reason why and how proud they were of their tiny feet. The rituals and superstitions that guided a woman's day, and life, are explained, with emphasis on duty and honor. It is mostly though, about the friendship between Lily and Snow Flower beginning when they are chosen to be old sames at age seven, much like spouses were bartered and negotiated by the matchmaker.

It was a tough life for women, their honor bound up, in their feet, and in the sons produced. I was torn between being upset at the lack of choices they had, and admiration for the strength and power they did have within their female world. At six their feet were bound and they were confined to the upstairs quarters. They were passed to their husband's family and became the lowest in that house, honoring the male family and in laws, especially the mother in law. The mothers were so controlling and unaffectionate, that by the time a woman finally got to be powerful, i.e. the mother of a son who had married, they seemed to take all their life disappointments out on the women now below them. The men didn't really have a large role in the family - bring home the money and produce boys. And yet, the women had friendships, and did control many family decisions.

If you haven't read this one yet, and I can't have been the very last person, I would recommend it as a powerful story of female friendship, and an historical look into old China.


  1. Isn't this great?! One of my top two from last year. I love this book.

  2. This is one of my favorites. Have you read Peony in Love? If not, I highly recommend it.

  3. 3m - it was marvelous. I think it will be on my top list of this year.

    softdrink - I knew there was a book called Peony in Love, and by the end of the book, I figured it was related to Snow Flower. Adding it to the list.

  4. You're not the last person in the world to read this! I love ancient Chinese stories and this has been on my tbr for ever. As soon as I get out from under my arc tbr pile I'll have to get to this finally.

  5. I enjoyed this one as well. I did not pursue Peony in Love when it came out - not sure why. I probably was under the TBR pile at the time. :)

  6. I enjoyed this one for the history as well but after finishing I'm not rushing out to get Peony in Love.

  7. I also loved this book. It's a favorite from last year.

  8. I have got to read this soon! I have heard so many good things about it. Thanks for the great review.

  9. Nope, you're not the last one...I still haven't read it. It's been on my TBR pile for a while now, and I've really been looking forward to it, but just haven't gotten to it. I don't think I've heard a bad word said about this book yet. Glad you enjoyed it!


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