October 31, 2011

Sue's review of 'Snowflower and the Secret Fan' by Lisa See

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, or "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 has written 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. They both endure the agony of footbinding and together 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.

 Lisa See Website

I have had this book since Jeannie sent me a copy of it in ummmm March 2011. It has sat on my table next to where I sit and read since then. I have started it 3 times and finally decided I was going to just read it all the way through.
Now, do not get me wrong, this is a VERY good book. I was reluctant to read it all the way through because my niece (who BEGGED me to read this) spilled one little thing to me about it.

First off, this is a beautiful story of friendship. It is a historical fiction book detailing the lives of 2 women that are bound together from childhood by a conniving match maker.
You must know that in this story there are things that will make your cringe as you learn about this culture. Not only are the women treated as nothing more than a means to an end, they are physically tortured in the name of beauty and perfection. Not unusual even in our society (I'm thinking waxing, crash diets, underwire bras) The extent these families would go to could kill their daughter or leave her lame. The mother in the book tells her daughter only in pain will you find beauty. 

Yes I am talking about the Asian practice of footbinding.
If a lady did not have small, dainty feet she was not considered beautiful and was left to be no more than a mule serving a household that could afford to feed her. Now we look at this as barbaric but that was the norm for this culture much like circumcision for males and women is normal in other cultures.

The story is not just about this practice but what comes from it. The bond between two young women and secret language they share their life stories in.

I cried when I read most of this book.
I felt deeply for every character. That, in itself, is a credit to the author. She makes you think not just about the situation these women find themselves in but she makes you think about how we as women treat each other even in our friendships.

Do you judge another woman harshly based on what you perceive as their life and how they deal with it? Are you envious or smug in the way you treat others?

This is a beautiful story if you can get past some of the cultural differences and understand how well they fit the time and place and see these characters doing the best they can with what they have. You will enjoy this book. It is a heartbreaking story of love many different kinds of love. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. There were several times in the 2 days I was reading this book that I had to set it aside and text my niece to yell at her and let the tears clear from eyes so I could see well enough to read. Yeah, Im a sap.

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