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 men. As 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.
MY REVIEW (MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS)
I don’t know if you know this, but I love books. I love bookstores, online bookstores, used bookstores, and basically any store that carries books. I always have my wish list going on Amazon and I’m constantly looking at it to see if I should buy anything this instant. Lisa See’s novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, was one of these books. I saw that it received so many good reviews and I knew that I had to read it, but for some reason it never made it into my cart. Then, one afternoon, I found myself in a used bookstore (how’d that happen?), and they had See’s novel on the shelf. Even though there was no one else in the shop with me, I snatched it up like a hot cake.
This book was incredible. Very reminiscent of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, I was immediately drawn into the story of Lily, a young Chinese girl, who at the young age of 5 endures her foot binding, and ultimately meets with the girl who will become her best friend for life, Snow Flower.
The writing was beautiful and the story was very fast paced. Although it took me a while to read, I was sad to see it end. Much like Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, the reader follows the main character through her entire life, witnessing not only all of her struggles and failures, but also seeing her love and succeed as a prominent woman of the time. The love between Snow Flower and Lily is immense – I can’t imagine having only one friend throughout my life, but these two girls made it look worthwhile.
There were so many hard parts to read in this novel: one being the account of the foot binding. When I read, it’s normally as I’m walking and my feet were cringing as I read about what could happen to these girls if their foot binding was done incorrectly. Reading about them walking around their solitary room as they waited for the bones in their feet to break makes me feel a little nauseous as I write about it!
Another really hard thing to read was the worthlessness of the girls of China. To this day, I can’t understand how any child could be seen as worthless! The girls were told they would be worthless if they didn’t produce sons. They were told to listen to their husband, listen to their mother-in-law, and rarely did you ever see a chance for a girl to stand up for herself and speak for herself. It was just so sad to read that these girls did not have the freedom that is so prominent these days.
It was hard to read about how Lily started off so poor, ultimately ending up so prominent, whereas Snow Flower was the complete opposite.
Ultimately, if you want to learn more about the culture of China, I would recommend this book. It even inspired me to pick up another novel of See’s, so I guess I’ll have to compare the two when I’m finished. If Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is any indication of See’s other work, I’m sure her other novels are amazing as well.