1 Book You Read: “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See
2 Words that describe the book: Chinese woman friendship (OK…it is just not enough to have only two words!)
3 Settings where it took place or characters you met:
Setting: a Hunan county in nineteenth century China
Lily—the daughter of a farmer who lucks into a special relationship with another girl (called laotong, this relationship is a lifelong emotional match between two women) and experiences upward mobility as a result of this friendship and her golden lotuses (her perfectly bound feet).
Snow Flower—Lily’s laotong match (“old same”), Snow Flower teaches Lily the ways of the upper class to help prepare Lily for her marriage. In return, Snow Flower learns the practicalities of keeping a household. One such skill that Snow Flower teaches Lily is the art of nu shu (secret women’s writing), which the two girls use to communicate on a silk fan throughout their lives.
4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:
I liked learning about a time and culture that I was unfamiliar with. The world of Lily and Snow Flower is so different from my existence as a 20th century American woman. I was both horrified and fascinated by the way they lived. From learning about the horrors of footbinding to the level of worth that a woman held in that society was eye-opening and absorbing. I knew very little about footbinding until I read this book. Let me tell you: the footbinding scenes are just so upsetting and graphic that I kept trying to look away from the page while reading. I found the entire process to be stomach-churning, and when I Googled “footbinding,” I saw photos that I wish I’d never looked at. (Let me sum it up this way: 3 inch feet.) And as a woman, it was painful to read about a woman’s worth (or lack thereof) in that culture.
I liked how Lily was a fully developed character. At times, I admired her. At other times, I thought she was horrible. She tells her story from her vantage point of being an old lady (during her days of “sitting quietly”) in an effort to gain forgiveness for her behaviors before she journeys to the afterlife.
I liked how Lisa See created this world that I felt fully immersed in while reading. See did a brilliant job of bringing these characters and settings alive that, when I stopped reading, I had to take a moment to reorient myself to the modern world. I also loved the delicate and poetic language that See uses and that permeates Chinese culture and language.
I liked how emotionally invested I got in the story. When Snow Flower died (and I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that), I cried. This is a story of “deep heart love” between two women, and I think the friendship felt true and genuine.
5 Stars or less for your rating?
I’m giving the book 4.5 stars. I thought it was beautifully written, and the story of the friendship between Lily and Snow Flower was absorbing and emotional. If you like learning about different cultures and being immersed in a world very unlike our own, I would highly recommend this book. Even if you don’t like learning about other cultures, I still recommend this book. The story will stick with you for a long time, and I suspect you’ll be drawn into Lily and Snow Flower’s friendship and world as fully as I was. Thanks to all the book bloggers who raved about this book and force me to add it to my “gotta check out what the fuss is all about” list. It was a wonderful read. I’ll definitely be reading more of Lisa See’s books.
The Whys and Wheres: I got the book from Paperback Swap and will be sending it to my mom as I think she’ll enjoy reading it.
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