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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Snow Flower and the Secret Fan...a must read! June 13 2006
I just finished this book and loved it! Stylistically it reminded me of Amy Tan's writing, with the focus on the evolution of two women's relationship in historic China. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the cultures customs, but to see the relationship of the main characters grow, develop and change throughout the book and their lives was very touching and real. To live in an environment where your worth was judged on how many sons you could give birth to, and that as women, they were so limited in their lives due to rules and their inferior roles in society, maintaining relationships was a challenge.

I would recommend this for many reasons, but I think the enduring love and commitment between friends crosses all generation and cultural gaps, we can all learn something from this book about what is truly important in life.
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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and Beautiful April 1 2006
I found this novel fascinating. With tenderness and honesty it vivdly paints the sorrowful world of women in 19th century China. It informs the reader about a distant culture and imparts an understanding of human psychology and spirituality. Once started I couldn't put it down. It was haunting and I think it will stay with me for a very long time. It honors all women and the hardship they have endured.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but tragic. June 10 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Secret World Nov. 3 2013
I read this book for a book club meeting I will be attending. I do not think I would have read this book otherwise.

I do not hink that I was the target audience for this book. A story that is albout the secret life of women? I am sure that the author does not mind a man reading it, but women will enjoy the book more. There is only scant mention of the male characters and their names are hardly used.

I did enjoy the book. The author told a wonderful story. The character development. The main character, who narates the story, is very well developed. Through her eyes, we see her intrepretation of the other character, whether correct or not.

The story was very well developed told over many years. There are many themes that the author touches upon. The importantance of a good friend throughout your life. The need for intimacy. That we can learn from others, not matter what each others circumstances might me. The need for honesty in a relationship and how a misinterpreted word can destroy great accomplishment.

WE will have a good discussion at the book club. I am the only male in it. I can see there will be a lot of discussion on the footbinding and what constitutes beauty. I can see discussions on what is expected of a woman in society. Could be a bi of man bashing.

I enjoyed the book. I may not have been the targe
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5.0 out of 5 stars lisa See: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Sept. 15 2013
By Hana
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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. She comes from what we would call the lower middle class, and lives in a remote area of southern Hunan province. She lives a traditional life of bound feet, arranged marriages, and complete subservience to fathers, husbands and sons.
Foot binding started at about 6 years of age, and every tenth girl died from this attempt to stop the feet from growing by breaking bones and creating small, tiny feet for a mature woman. This seemed to be the highest aphrodisiac for men and the way to a good marriage or to a marriage at all. Marriages were arranged very early, and girls were constantly assured of their unworthiness and told what a burden they were for their families. The birth of a girl was always unwelcome, as everyone wanted to have only sons and more sons still.
Partnership in a marriage was not to be hoped for, so the only way to any intimacy for a woman was a bosom friend, the "same sames", other girls, who would become friends for life. It was not just anyone, who can be your LAOTONG, or the same same; there had to be signs, like the height, date of birth and many other things to concur.
All pre-pubertal girls in the world want to have a reliable girl friend, but in the highly class conscious society of old China, even such a relationship had to be half legal, arranged by a professional person, who had similar duties to those of a matchmaker.
The oppressed women of the time and place even created their own language, which, actually, was already old in the 19th century.
The heroine Lily, during her long life, rose much higher in the social scale than her laotong Snow Flower, while in their childhood it had been otherwise.
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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 15 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 15 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.
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and engaging
What I like about this book is that the topic is totally new for me--secret female writing shared amongst Chinese women. Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2010 by Prairie Girl
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
"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. Read more
Published on Dec 3 2008 by Pauline
4.0 out of 5 stars Passion for friendship is Universal
Lisa See's novel was given to me by my best friend of 30 years and I immediately knew why. Although set in a place and time that I have never really given much thought to, the... Read more
Published on Nov. 28 2007 by N. Jomha
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