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.
"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.
Old Asian traditions and a whole culture brought to life in such a vivid way in this book. Footbinding, laotong's and arranged marriages filled with obediance. A whole life with its beauty and suffering written on a fan. The hardship of the women and all the others is almost physically to be felt while reading, and not just almost. The last chapter I could not read without being deeply moved to tears while reading it yesterday. The story is based on a partly true happened story, and is partly fiction, "told" by a woman looking back onto her life, sitting there with almost nothing left then her thoughts about it all and time. The book is one of the most beautiful and at the same time sad ones, I ever read. A happy ending would be nice.
Lisa See beautifully captures the life and times of a collection of Chinese girls in the 19th Century with this novel.
A common complaint amongst readers seems to be that the characters are wooden - I didn't find the characters at all flat - in fact what I thought the characterisation of Lily (which was, admittedly, perhaps a little staid) represented was the strict binding of emotion, as well as body, women we expected to undergo during their lives. Women lived by stringent rules of person - their personalities as socially formed as their feet were made to be. With this in mind the portrayal is as painful as it is beautiful, simply by the simplicity of it.
The relationship between Lily and Snow Flower, at times difficult, was nonetheless moving. The peripheral characters circling the main story are perhaps a little under developed, yet as the title suggests this is about the relationship between the two girls and their unique sisterhood. The plot sometimes wanders a little, but the power of the two main characters, and their experiences, makes this for the most part negligible.
Definitely a must read for fans of fiction which is slow burning, deeply rooted in life and respectful of a world which is filled with forgotten detail.
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.
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!
I liked this very much. I have lived in China 7yrs & can speak so so mandarin so can really identify with the offbeat poetry and splintered sentences & riddles.also the belief in the zodiacs that's still prominent in modern-day China. The footbinding was gruesome & mesmerizing at the same time those poor girls.
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.