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VINE VOICEon 4 December 2008
Though we often say upon beginning to describe a wonderful book we have just finished: 'this is the best book I have ever read', (and like many, I have used that phrase before) all too often, some time later, we feel the need to say the same again of another book we finish, and so one afterwards is left asking themselves the question: 'what indeed IS the best book I have ever read'? Well, I have no doubt it has to be this!

'Snow Flower And The Secret Fan' was simply wonderful! No book I have ever read made me openly 'weep' through the whole of a chapter... So much so, that I was convinced that these had been 'real' people and had existed. In fact, I wanted to believe it - not sure why when in parts the story was so painful and sad, but perhaps in my subconscious I did not wish to believe that I had been so 'taken in' by fictional people - or by such a talented Writer? The mystery will never be solved, but this novel is simply beautiful...

An early chapter left me feeling somewhat 'disturbed' by its immense detail. Though by nature I am not a 'squeamish' sort of person, I was in fact deeply affected by the chapter that dealt with the whole process of 'footbinding' and the suffering this involved (the breaking of bones in the feet - along with them hanging loosely within the flesh until they 'fused') I found this very difficult and hard-going, and just wanted to get past it... However, the book is also extremely educational for all of us who are ignorant of what these sorts of cultures are about - after all, these things did go on, and so thus it is very informative. I also love a book with 'surprises', and the hard-hitting event surrounding the life of 'Beautiful Moon' that came quite out of the blue got me immediately 'hooked'!

Just having reached the moment when I thought I could not pity 'Snow Flower' any more, I ended up breaking my heart, and the chapter at the very end of the story - and the end of life for 'Lady Lu', it also left me feeling very 'melancholic'. But this is not simply a novel that is a 'weepy', or overly sentimental; it's worth far greater appraise than that, and I would recommend it to anyone. In all of the books I have ever read, I feel sure when I say that I shall never forget this one, and all that it was about; friendship, love, kindness, forgiveness, pain, suffering, relationships, and so it goes on...

If I possessed the fan that Snow Flower and Lady Lu created, then I feel sure I should be able to add much to it myself for such was the impact of this tremendous read!

A truly magnificent and wonderful book that everyone should both read and treasure forever!
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on 27 January 2006
This is one of the most unforgetable books I've ever read, and I've read several books a week for 50 years! There are many books about China, but this one is based on a custom I had never heard about, that of two young girls binding themselves to each other for life at a very early age. They communicate using a secret language known only to women and meet only rarely.
If you have ever thought your life was difficult, reading this will make you realise how very much more difficult, controlled and full of physical and mental pain were the lives of Chinese women until fairly recently. As a little girl the heroine was allowed outside unfettered only once. Repeatedly told girls were absolutely worthless and unloved by anyone except her sworn friend, her feet are agonizingly bound and she is married to a man she has never seen.
Beautiful and interesting though the descriptions of the culture are, the main theme of the book is the unfolding story of the attachment of the two girls (as the title suggests). The final chapters will live with you for a long time.
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on 20 April 2007
"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" is a suspenseful and poignant novel set in nineteenth century China at a time when foot-binding was practiced and women were kept secluded.

Two women in Hunan province establish a deep friendship as laotongs, "old sames." These are girls that are paired off with each other in a friendship that can last a lifetime. Their bond grows over the years as they struggle with famine, unrest, arranged marriages and motherhood. Their close friendship is threatened when misunderstanding arises between them.

This book offered a glance into women's life in nineteenth century China in an absorbing story. I recommend this book along with The Tenderness of Wolves and Nexus: A Neo Novel.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 September 2011
This was a very beautiful book that really made me think, wonder and empathise about the Chinese way of life in the past and particularly the journey that Chinese girls are forced to endure in the belief that what they suffer will make them stronger, gain them husbands, produce them sons and ultimately benefit their families and gain those families a higher status in society. I read it and alternately winced with pain at some of the horrific depictions of the Chinese practice of foot-binding and then smiled at the genuine friendship between the narrator Lily and her laotong (the ultimate lifelong friend forever), Snowflower and then felt sorrow for Lily's own dysfunctional relationship with her family.

Being a daughter, Lily wasn't really considered as important as her brothers by any of her family, until a local matchmaker told Lily's family that she was quite possibly destined to have a higher path in life: should she have her feet bound into perfect golden lilies (small feet were considered desirable by Chinese men) and be bound with a Laotong (instead of just a mere sworn sister), then she would eventually marry into an important family and produce sons destined for great things. This book is told from a now eighty year old Lily's perspective as she reflects on her past and all she has been through and reads like a very powerful, haunting memoir. Though it is fiction, the research is so impeccable that it feels very real and it definitely moved me as a reader. This book is both poignant and haunting and I know some of what I'm read will stay with me- I have learned a lot from this story.

I don't want to give too much away about this novel as it is definitely one that everyone needs to read if they have an interest in a culture so very different from that in western society. The level of detail supplied by the author is astonishing, heart wrenching at times- but very vivid- and you can really imagine yourself immersed into Lily's life. Character development too, is faultless- with flawed people who you enjoy disliking at times, but then you find yourself moved by other characters levels of bravery. This tale really had me enthralled and veering from one emotion to the next.

The prose used is very elegant and concise and with the extra information included such as the lyrical Chinese poems and stories, as a reader you feel yourself pulled completely into the story. I'm really glad I read this novel and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys powerful novels about female friendships- if that is your kind of read, then this is definitely another essential to add to the list.
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on 22 February 2007
Although my heart really wanted a different ending for this wonderful story, I must admit that it is one of the best I've ever read. Reading it was a beautiful journey through time and space. A touching book with characters that seem to be breathe they are so real and capable of evoking such strong emotions. Everything just came to life for me while reading this book. I feel like I have known Snow Flower and Lily almost personally. I felt their joys and their losses.

Thank you to Lisa See for this treat of a novel and for prompting me to find out more about the old Chinese customs and conditions for women, I am learning a great deal.
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on 14 April 2010
After reading this book, I immediately gave it to my best friend to read. Although it is about two Chinese women and the hardships they faced in their lives, ultimately it is about friendship and the unspoken misunderstandings in relationships that can cause them to collapse.

The way the two women communicate by writing on a fan is a beautiful idea, and it got me and my friend writing letters to one another, just because we realised how wonderful it would to have something to look back on in our old age! Although, hopefully we will have a happier time than the two main characters of the book. Their lives are tragic, and sadly their friendship starts wonderfully but ends rather sadly. Read it, then ring up your old buddies who you haven't talked to for a long time and see how they are. You don't want to end up like these two women with misunderstandings that cause anger and resentment till it is too late.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 22 November 2013
I'm finding this hard to review. At times 'Snow Flower' was impossible to stop listening to (I audio read this), at others it started to seem a little dull. It shouldn't have, it was a fascinating subject.

Covering the first 40 years of the life of a very old and respected Chinese lady, Lily grows up knowing she will have her feet bound at the age of 6 in order to be an acceptable wife. This section is the most shocking and uncomfortable to read, but what follows is hardly less so; the utter subjugation and debasement of womankind by society. Lily survives the process that kills one in ten, and due to her 'perfect lilies' of feet, is allowed a female friend for life, a laotong, a rarity. Snow Flower and she become fast and intimate friends, into adulthood, marriage and motherhood, all of which bring their own trials.

The social history and everyday lives of the women I found fascinating (if horribly drudgsome and limited), the rebellion leading to their mountain escape and trials exciting. It was the relationship between Lily and Snow Flower that just didn't quite hit a nerve with me, I can't put my finger on why.

I loved the story, the plot directions and what we learn of life for Chinese women in this period, I just think more could have been made of their friendship.
Still, a powerful piece of writing with 80-year-old Lily looking back with wisdom (though not enough to comment on the brutality of the foot-binding customs) on her life and mistakes, at a time when 40 was the life expectancy.
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on 25 February 2008
A very descriptive memoir style fictional account about the role of women in C19 Chinese Society; where friendships among the women were of great importance. Until comparatively recently Chinese women led a very controlled life. They were made to feel worthless for having been born female in the first place, with their only use in society to give birth to sons.

This is a beautiful story of the strong friendship between Lily and Snow Flower. As little girls of six these two became `laotong' that is young girls that are matched by such things as date of birth and social standing to become soul mates for life. These relationships were considered as important as their eventual marriages would be.
The story follows the complex friendship from the beginning of `laotong' pairing to the end of their lives. Together Lily and Snow Flower share the joys and sorrows of their lives; from foot-binding, arranged marriages, wedding feasts, birth of children and other festivals within the larger picture of disease, famine and war. Lily is now 80 years old and relating the story of her relationship with Snow-Flower and how they developed a lifelong bond through secret `nu shu'(a written coded language created by women for women exclusively) messages to each other over the years. In telling her story she feels she is seeking atonement for mistakes she made, which for forty years have worried her.

The process of foot-binding I have always found disturbing, but the account in this book is the most vivid I have ever read. Apparently perfect feet are 7cm in length! This practice is known to have still been carried out in rural China within the region that Tongku is located in until as recently as the early 1950's.

I recommend this highly not just as a beautiful story but because it is one that will impact you deeply and teach you much about the role of women in the history of Chinese culture.
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on 22 March 2008
In her eighties, Lily writes a memoire of her life in rural China in the late 19th century.

A life confined to the inner realm of women. This is the novel's greatest feat, but also the downside. At times, I was almost angry at the fact that Lily's world is so small.

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" is a view into that inner realm of Chinese woman, where the birth of a girl is another mouth to feed, how a young bride is under the rule of her mother-in-law, but it is also the story of nu shu - women's secret writing and the power of friendship between women.

I would definitely recommend this novel as it pulls you in to a world of making shoes for golden lilies and wonderful friendship. However, I would note that the book is insular in some ways.

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The two lines of my title for this review, I think, quite aptly sums up what is at the heart of SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN. The quality of being a lady at all times; how you hold true to the traditions of your family and your culture as well as how you remain loyal and dignifed towards your family. But also what it essentially means to be a woman or girl during the time the novel is set in.

SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN is about two young girls growing up in China. As girls, they are seen as worthless to their family - their only worth will be gained from their marriages and their ability to provide sons for their husbands. The two girls, Lily and Snow Flower, are sworn at a young age to become laotong - this is a bond which is reverred between females, seen as being just as important as a marriage between a man and a woman. They are never meant to cross each other, and just as in a marriage, they are only meant to be parted by death. But Lily and Snow Flower are different in their personalities, and they both have a different destiny ahead of them. Lily has perfect bound feet, only 7 centimetres in length, and it is through this that she has managed to procure a good betroval. Snow Flower's future is not so fortunate, and so, as laotong, they both go through emotional and sometimes physical pain relying on each other for strength and encouragement. But life for women is cruel and their friendship shall be tested to the highest degree.

That is a very diluted version of the main parts of the story. Part of the success of SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN is that See has done a fantastic job at recreating Lily and Snow Flower's world. Every step of the way, you are there with them. The description of the footbinding is excrutiating in detail; the way that men treat women is also brilliantly portrayed. See has managed to relate a lost world to Western readers. Highly recommended. And if you like this, there is See's other novel, PEONY IN LOVE, which folows the story of one minor character from this book.
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