on November 13, 2006
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,
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!
on May 20, 2007
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.
on November 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
on September 15, 2013
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. As the relationship with Snow Flower was the most important thing which happened in Lily's life, she became jealous when it seemed that later in life, Snow Flower found other new friendships. Neither riches, social standing, husband, nor children were as important as the first emotional attachment.
In spite of all the tragedy, the book is gentle, well written, full of flowers and the spring-like feelings.
It is lovely reading.
on December 3, 2008
"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. Lily's final words for Snow Flower are: "But if the dead continue to have the needs and desires of the living, then I'm reaching out to Snow Flower and the others who witnessed it all. Please hear my words. Please forgive me."
This book does not speak highly of males; the males in the book due to the era of time treat the women like property. The origin of foot binding is controversial and no set reason for the beginning of the practice has been found, but I think it may have to do with controlling women, for in binding their feet they are basically handicapped for life and have to rely on their husbands for everything.
I enjoyed this book, but I found the depth of the characters lacking, I just did not become overly attached to them. Creating new best friend in books is one of the reasons I read, but while a great read, I did not make any best friends in "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" just acquaintances.
on 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.
on March 15, 2012
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 so delicately presented. The detail in parts was shocking, such as when the girls foot binding began, while the setting and strict cultural traditions are vividly embedded on every page.
The real greatness of this story, however, is the intimate relationship between the laotongs, or "old sames," Lily and Snow Flower. A tale of true friendship, this story emphasizes the importance of trust, openness, and, ultimately, forgiveness, as the two girls grow into women and experience love, loss, and motherhood.
on May 17, 2013
We enjoyed this book, it was well written and it was a book that provided some knowledge on the chinese culture and traditions. It prompted some gals to go on line to research foot binding images, and examples of nu shu writings. Who knew that there are 50,000 characters in the chinese written language and in the woman's nu shu there are 600 phonetic characters which make up 10,000 words. Many of our club enjoy novels which provide information. The characters of the novel and their relationships with each other provided some really good discussion.
on February 20, 2007
The moment I noticed this I was instantly drawn to it. I read the back cover, skimmed through the pages until I finally decided to purchase it. If you enjoy stories like The Joy Luck Club, The Good Earth then you will definitely be interested in this. It took me into a new world, let me view how life was once lived in China and also told of a love and friendship. I often found myself paralleling Snow Flower's and Lily's relationship to that of my own and my best friend. Truly an amazing book.