Snow Flower and The Secret Fan by Lisa See– 269 pages
In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
My Review: 5 stars
Snow Flower And The Secret Fan has the capacity to forever make you a lover of historical fiction. This book is filled with the power and beauty of women in a time when women were raised to join another family, deformed by foot binding and given a forever friend at birth. The secret language the women shared was so powerful as communication is inherent to their being.
The writing was strong, often poetic, with the perfect amount of detail to make the village, sounds and smells come alive. Especially harrowing were the foot binding scenes and I’m thankful the practice was banned long ago. Having the POV be from an elderly woman, who calls herself one who has “yet to die,” was extremely powerful. With her age comes the wisdom to share her story with insight, clarity and remorse.
For women who enjoy books about friendships, both deep and true and broken and regret-filled, you will adore this book.
Quotes I liked:
I am old enough to know only too well my good and bad qualities, which were often one in the same.”
-“Obey, obey, obey, then do what you want.”
-“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”
-“There is no life without death. That is the true meaning of yin and yang”
-“In our country we call this type of mother love teng ai. My son has told me that in men’s writing it is composed of two characters. The first means pain; the second means love. That is a mother’s love.”