Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
By Lisa See
Publisher: Random House, Inc
Kindle ASIN: B000FCK71U
Genre: Historical Fiction/Culture
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.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has been tucked within my reading list for several years now. I am ashamed of that fact, as I feel it deserves much more attention than I initially gave it.
“Seventy-five years have gone by, and I still remember the feel of the mud between my toes, the rush of water over my feet, the cold against my skin. Beautiful Moon and I were free in a way that we would never be again.”
Lily is a young girl being raised among poverty in 19th century China. When she is presented with the opportunity to be paired with a laotong (old same) she is excited at the prospect of a lifelong friend, Snow Flower. For years they will exchange fans containing secret letters written in Nu Shu, a language that has been developed by Chinese women to carry their messages safe from the eyes of men. These letters will become part of a story full of happiness, sadness, and all facets of life. But when a misunderstanding arises and mistakes are made, all that Lily loves becomes compromised. Will this friendship come to a tragic end or survive the test of time?
This is an exceptional title that it is difficult to review in full because it is sure to be a truly unique experience for the individual. Since this was a journey laden with complex feelings for myself, I am going focus only that aspect for purpose of this review. It is my goal to encourage you to explore this title and develop your own thoughts.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was much more challenging than I could have ever predicted. This is a culturally saturated read that explores some facets that are hard to digest. The practice of foot binding being one. I want to openly state right now that there were scenes in relation to the practice of binding that made my stomach turn and that is no easy feat. But I feel that the author’s ability to depict these moments so graphically is significant in regards to fostering a true understanding within the reader. This is a barbaric ritual that poses life threatening risks and left many women crippled. The intensity of See’s description solicits a very appropriate feeling that is necessary.
“They should be small, narrow, straight, pointed, and arched, yet still fragrant and soft in texture.”
Narrated with elegant prose, this is a story that effortlessly evokes emotions ranging from empathy to frustration and finally some semblance of understanding but not exactly acceptance. It is difficult to acknowledge just how trivialized women were within the Chinese cultural and society during the setting of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The amount of emphasis placed directly on outward “beauty” is infuriating. The author has represents these aspects in such a manner that it is easy to understand why having a laotong would be invaluable for our narrator.
“She looked at me the way all mothers look at their daughters—as a temporary visitor who was another mouth to feed and a body to dress until I went to my husband’s home.”
See provides us with something remarkable that stands to be indisputable evidence of the amount of time and care that must have went into the research and composure of Lily’s story. Arresting and tragically haunting, this is a book to be devoured and savored slowly. Highest recommendation to all who seek memorable historical fiction that is deliciously rich in culture.