Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
4 stars

Summary/review (from School Library Journal): Lily at 80 reflects on her life, beginning with her daughter days in 19th-century rural China. Foot-binding was practiced by all but the poorest families, and the graphic descriptions of it are not for the fainthearted. Yet women had nu shu, their own secret language. At the instigation of a matchmaker, Lily and Snow Flower, a girl from a larger town and supposedly from a well-connected, wealthy family, become laotong, bound together for life. Even after Lily learns that Snow Flower is not from a better family, even when Lily marries above her and Snow Flower beneath her, they remain close, exchanging nu shu written on a fan... As the years pass, the women's relationship changes; Lily grows more powerful in her community, bitter, and harder, until at last she breaks her bond with Snow Flower. They are not reunited until Lily tries to make the dying Snow Flower's last days comfortable. Their friendship, and this tale, illustrates the most profound of human emotions: love and hate, self-absorption and devotion, pride and humility, to name just a few. Even though the women's culture and upbringing may be vastly different from readers' own, the life lessons are much the same, and they will be remembered long after the details of this fascinating story are forgotten.

Reason for reading: The Something About Me Challenge and also I'd heard so much about it. Actually, someone even recommended it to me as a children's book! No, no... (But I know some of the teens at my library have enjoyed it.)

My thoughts: I agree with the statements above. Despite the far-off setting, I found the book enjoyable and it really does cover all of those emotions, particularly love (and the longing to be loved) and self-absorption. That the breaking of Lily and Snow Flower's decades-long bond is caused by a single misunderstanding, is quite tragic, but I'm sure it still happens today.

I thought it was very well-researched. I learned a lot about 19th century China, particularly about foot-binding. I had no idea they actually broke and permanently deformed the foot - I thought they just bound it so it stayed child-small. Eeeyugh!!! I had had no idea Chinese women had had a secret language, although I do think it's rather funny they thought it was a "secret" from the men when they sang and chanted in it at every special event and even wove it into clothing and shoes.
As Lily finally realized, the men knew about it, they just didn't think women had anything important to say. I was also really intrigued by the formation of the laotong friendships that were almost like marriages and in many cases there was much more affection and devotion involved.

(As an aside, not long before reading this book, I'd read Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the foot-binding brought to mind the female circumcision in that book. It really made me pause in horror at the things that have been done (and are still being done) to women in the name of things like beauty and "purity.")


Anonymous said...

I too enjoyed Snow Flower when I read it last year and also found the footbinding chapter hard to read. My mother just recently picked up the author's new book - Peony in Love - and said that it was just as good as her first.

Literary Feline said...

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was my favorite book last year. I am glad you enjoyed reading it.

The foot binding made an impression on me too. And like you said, it is horrifying the things done in the name of beauty and purity.

alisonwonderland said...

i'm going to read this one someday! it's definitely in my TBR pile. i'm also thinking about reading Infidel for the "In Their Shoes" challenge.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Stephanie - I was wondering about the new book, glad to hear it was just as good.

LF - It's pretty mind-boggling, for sure...

Alison - Infidel isn't one I'd have chosen myself, but I'm glad I read it.

Dreamer said...

I just finished this book.. and I am still getting over it! .. left an impression ..definately!

Kelly said...

I'm only 12, and I have to tell you that this book sure was a reality check! The foot binding chapter was tough to get through, but the whole idea of it fascinates me! The disgrimination against woman and the horrid pain this woman HAD to go through really makes you value the rights woman and girls have today...