Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Also posted at Books. Lists. Life.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has been on everyone’s blog in the last year or so. Most everyone loved it to death. I put it on my paperbackswap list and got it in the mail some time last year, but never got around to reading it. This January, I put it on my personal TBR challenge list (found here.) Last week when I was looking for a book for this challenge, I picked it up. I read about a third of it, and then decided to take a little break to have a baby. I took the book to the hospital and on my last day there mostly finished it. (I spent a lot of time hoping to sleep, but due to being in a “semi-private” room didn’t really sleep. Or read. Or watch tv. Just laid there trying to ignore my roommate and her family.)
Snow Flower is about two women, Snow Flower and Lily, who are pledged together as laotong- a special type of friends. Lily is poor and uneducated, but has perfect feet. Snow Flower is from a wealthy family and is very proper and educated. Over the course of the book we see both women from about age 7 until their death(s). The girls get their feet bound, are matched and married, and become mothers themselves. The laotong friendship is supposed to benefit both girls. From the beginning it is obvious how this will benefit Lily. The connection with a wealthy influential family will give her some prestige and Snow Flower will teach Lily manners she wouldn’t learn at home. It is not so clear how this helps Snow Flower. The girls marry off in very ritual ceremonies and then… wait, you don’t want to know what happens, right?
This book was fascinating look at the history of the women in China. The rituals of footbinding and the marriage traditions are very interesting. The way the women lived was very eye-opening to me. Much of the book is about nu shu- a “secret” women’s writing that Lily and Snow Flower used to communicate when they weren’t together. Snow Flower and Lily use nu shu to write important events on the folds of a fan which travels between the girls as well. The books is written as a memoir written by Lily, looking back at the past.
The pages of the book just flew by. I expected it to be hard to get into the groove because of the time period, but there was never a moment of slowness. At the beginning, I was a bit annoyed at Lily’s heavy foreshadowing of what would happen. By the end of the book it wasn’t so noticable, and it started to feel like the way Lily was berating herself rather than foreshadowing. The trajectory of the girl’s lives was perfect and dramatic. Details were revealed very slowly but when you did find some new detail it was both surprising and expected due to what Lily had already known. (Ok, that makes no sense, but trust me on it.) Overall, an excellent book, highly recommended.
This review is for avidbookreader‘s TBR challenge, and also fulfills a book on my own list. I have barely proofread it, as I have barely slept and find that prospect much more appealing. My apologies.