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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel [Paperback]

Lisa See
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 21 2006
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.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. See's engrossing novel set in remote 19th-century China details the deeply affecting story of lifelong, intimate friends (laotong, or "old sames") Lily and Snow Flower, their imprisonment by rigid codes of conduct for women and their betrayal by pride and love. While granting immediacy to Lily's voice, See (Flower Net) adroitly transmits historical background in graceful prose. Her in-depth research into women's ceremonies and duties in China's rural interior brings fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women's inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that informed daily life. Beginning with a detailed and heartbreaking description of Lily and her sisters' foot binding ("Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace"), the story widens to a vivid portrait of family and village life. Most impressive is See's incorporation of nu shu, a secret written phonetic code among women—here between Lily and Snow Flower—that dates back 1,000 years in the southwestern Hunan province ("My writing is soaked with the tears of my heart,/ An invisible rebellion that no man can see"). As both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle, this novel has bestseller potential and should become a reading group favorite as well.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Lily at 80 reflects on her life, beginning with her daughter days in 19th-century rural China. Foot-binding was practiced by all but the poorest families, and the graphic descriptions of it are not for the fainthearted. Yet women had nu shu, their own secret language. At the instigation of a matchmaker, Lily and Snow Flower, a girl from a larger town and supposedly from a well-connected, wealthy family, become laotong, bound together for life. Even after Lily learns that Snow Flower is not from a better family, even when Lily marries above her and Snow Flower beneath her, they remain close, exchanging nu shu written on a fan. When war comes, Lily is separated from her husband and children. She survives the winter helped by Snow Flower's husband, a lowly butcher, until she is reunited with her family. As the years pass, the women's relationship changes; Lily grows more powerful in her community, bitter, and harder, until at last she breaks her bond with Snow Flower. They are not reunited until Lily tries to make the dying Snow Flower's last days comfortable. Their friendship, and this tale, illustrates the most profound of human emotions: love and hate, self-absorption and devotion, pride and humility, to name just a few. Even though the women's culture and upbringing may be vastly different from readers' own, the life lessons are much the same, and they will be remembered long after the details of this fascinating story are forgotten.–Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a deeply personal look into the lifelong friendship of two nineteenth-century Chinese women--a friendship that began when they were paired together as laotongs or 'old sames', what we might refer to as 'soul sisters'. Lily and Snow Flower send messages back and forth, written in the secret women's language of nu shu. Hidden in the folds of a fan or on delicate handkerchiefs, the messages linked these two women together in a friendship that was more powerful than a marriage.

Through the decades, Lily, the narrator, suffers many hardships and challenges. At the early age of seven, she and her laotong endure the common practice of footbinding. The author paints a vivid picture of this ancient torture, used to determine a girl's worth--especially regarding marriage. Lily and Snow Flower are bound by ritual and by their growing friendship and reliance on one another. And then something happens that rips at the core of their friendship.

Betrayal, misunderstandings and anger lead to hurt feelings and separation. Forgiveness is needed. But can these women learn to forgive and let go of old pain? Or will they let their lifelong friendship die?

This wonderful, loving and tragic story of friendship and betrayal will teach the reader much about Chinese traditions. The stunning description of the lands, the sights and smells, paints vivid images upon the reader's mind. But it is the loving friendship of Lily and Snow Flower that will grip your heart and fill it with yearning to have a laotong of your own. What a powerful and emotional story!

~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and engaging Jan. 25 2010
By Prairie Girl TOP 500 REVIEWER
What I like about this book is that the topic is totally new for me--secret female writing shared amongst Chinese women. I also liked that although the story takes place in the 1800's, the language is modern and easy to read. You learn a lot about Chinese culture in this book without it feeling like a text book. The book is longer than it appears because the font is very small.

The language is at once harsh and beautiful. The names of the girls--Lily, Snow Flower, Beautiful Moon, etc--are so soft and beautiful, and yet, what they experience--foot binding, arranged marriages, being "a worthless girl"--is so harsh and heartbreaking.

The story centers around Lily and Snowflower, her "old same"-- a girl matched to her to be friends for life. The story follows their growth from young women to old age, and how their friendship changes and develops. The girls write to each other in nu shu--female writing shared and known only by females--and exchange messages back and forth. While they are matched as "old sames" their lives go on to take very different paths.

I found the story interesting and informative, a refreshing break from everything else I have been reading lately.

Amazon has a "look inside" feature on this book with quite a substantial excerpt--check it out, and if you find yourself reading the whole thing (as I did) give it a buy!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting look at 19th century China May 20 2007
By Misfit TOP 500 REVIEWER
While the story is a bit slow and drags at time, the look into the relationship between two women who are sworn as children to be lifelong friends, laotong or old sames, is very compelling. And you will learn WAY MORE about the process of foot binding than you ever wanted to know.

Well worth spending a few hours reading about the relationship between these two girls as they matured, married as arranged by their families, and sharing their joys and sorrows.

Four stars for the wonderful depictions of 19th Century life of women in China, three stars for the slow paced storyline.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Dec 3 2008
By Pauline
"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" occurs in China during the eighteen hundreds. Lily the narrator of the story has reached the age of eighty years and is recounting her life. She wants forgiveness from those who have passed on before her, especially from her laotong Snow Flower. A laotong is a lifetime relationship, that is formed between two females and the commitment runs deeper than the bond between a husband and wife.

Foot binding is explained in explicit detail near the beginning of the book. I was riveted to this chapter and read most of it with my mouth hanging open in terror. If you decide not to read the book, make sure you at least read the chapter on foot binding; it will change your perception of life.

The whole point of foot binding was to make the female more provocative and attractive for her husband; perfect feet also provided better choices for a high-quality husband. Lily's mother is able to create perfect feet during the foot binding process for Lily, but she also suffers a tragedy with another one of her daughters during the process. When feet are bound some suffer severe damage that leaves them unable to walk unaided and one in ten die from the procedure due to infection.

Snow Flower and Lily have an intriguing relationship and the book revolves around their lives from when they are young girls to when they are married and baring children and then to their grave. Lily enjoys the more providential life and has a hard time accepting Snow Flower's life. Lily believes Snow Flower's problems are of her own doing. It is not until the end, that Lily sees the true and bitter facts of Snow Flower's life.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but tragic.
This story was told in such a way that you felt each character's pain & sorrow. I found it educational in the art of foot-binding; I glad that this practise does not continue.
Published 4 months ago by Connie Flett
4.0 out of 5 stars A Secret World
I read this book for a book club meeting I will be attending. I do not think I would have read this book otherwise. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Lyle G. Appleyard
5.0 out of 5 stars lisa See: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
This book is probably the best of Lisa See's works that I have so far read.
It is a biography of a Chinese girl from 19th century China. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Hana
4.0 out of 5 stars Story of a Japanese woman
The novel was unique and told a story from a very interesting prospective of a Japanese woman. It was a very good read. Worth the time.
Published 17 months ago by Patricia Kohtala
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read for the Howdenvale Bookers
We enjoyed this book, it was well written and it was a book that provided some knowledge on the chinese culture and traditions. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Howdenvale Bookers
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read. This book provides an understanding of common...
An excellent book to read and recommend to your friends. It needs to be followed by "Dreams of Joy: to bring the story to a complete end.
Published 17 months ago by KVH
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant Tale of Friendship and Betrayal
What a beautifully written, poignant tale of women's life in China in the 1800's. I absolutely adored this book and found myself completely swept away by the lifestyle and culture... Read more
Published on March 15 2012 by Blood, Sweat, & Carbs
4.0 out of 5 stars Snow Flower and the secret fan
The author instantly transports you into another time and world unknown to you. It feels as though you see first hand of everlasting friendship and the ancient traditions of... Read more
Published on Dec 6 2010 by Victoria
2.0 out of 5 stars In Darkest China
this book has some interest as an item of cultural anthropology (? comparative ethnography) but, by writing it in the form of the memoir of a nineteenth century Chinese woman, the... Read more
Published on April 19 2009 by david hewitt
5.0 out of 5 stars Snowflower and the Secret Fan
this book is excellent....I knew about foot binding but did not realize exactly how it was is an interesting and insightful book on China. I fully recommend it.
Published on Feb. 11 2009 by Amazon Customer
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