Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See


“Lily is haunted by memories – of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness.In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan County developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu ("women's writing"). Some girls were paired with laotongs, "old sames," in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become "old sames" at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, 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 lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.”

This book is a gripping tale of two girls struggle to just basically live life. From the first page it grabs your attention and never lets it go. You relive the story along with Lily. You feel her pain, and when I say pain I mean pain. When her feet are bond your too become the same. When her toes, as she says “finally broke,” I could hear the sound and feel the shock in my own feet.

Yet the pain is not just the physical. Even though a major part is, there is the physical pain you feel with her. Lily reminisces about the time before Snow Flower came and before her foot binding when she was free to run the village, go to the river’s end and let the water wash over her feet. All she really wanted was basically affection, affection from her mother most of all. Then as she matures, she begins to realize that her mother loved her the best way she could. In China during this time, a girl only belonged to her natal family until the time of her marriage. Once married, the girl stayed with her natal family until she became pregnant and was close to giving birth, at that time she was sent to live with her husband and his family. There she would stay until her death, only seeing her family a few times a year at festivals. So to get too close would only bring more heart ache to the mother at that time. Fathers also did this and it become apparent in the scene where Madame Wang comes to look at Lily’s feet to make sure they are developing correctly and to pick a proper date to being her foot binding. Madame Wang sees Lily’s feet and tells her family that they have a great shape and already small so once the binding is done her feet will be prefect and that should make her more valuable in bride price. When this is announced the description of the change in the father’s emotions towards her is heartbreaking.

The Snow Flower comes and joy is restored. With her we learn about Nu Shu, which is a secret written language invented by women to communicate that men could not read, and men were also not allowed to ever touch nu shu either.
Snow Flower is already highly educated in the language and this is where we become just as fascinated with her as little Lily does. In Nu Shu, there are many stories told to the young girls, basically like biblical stories we as children are told today in order to give us life lessons. In these stories I fall even more in love with the author of this book, Amy See, who researched these stories and this book meticulously. These stories are said to be real stories told at this time in China.
As the story continues, the girls get married, and this is where the story really grows. Here we find out that the characters have multiple dimensions, especially Snow Flower. We find that her family is not all that Lily thinks them to be, and that because of the issues suffered from her father, Snow Flower will now be married to a butcher, which at this time is looked down on. Lily, because of her feet and friendship with Snow Flower, was married to a wealthy well to-do family, the Lu. The girls have children, Snow Flower with much difficulty and loss. Then the revolt happens, and is again another example of the author’s in-depth research, this now is called the 1855 Third Pandemic in China.
For more information on this war go to this website
When the war started, Lily is staying with Snow Flower and cannot return home. She escapes with Snow Flower’s family to the mountains. Their journey up the mountain, to me, symbolizes their journey through life so far. They make it only with the help of each other, but also watch many of the people they know die along the way. Also, while in the mountains, they learn things about each other. Lily learns that Snow Flower’s husband is not a kind man to her friend, and that Snow Flower has broke man rules or the “Bed Business” with him. Once the war has stopped they return home and Lily goes back to her family. The girls make plans towards making their daughter loatongs like themselves. With this comes also getting a date set to have their daughters feet binded. With each meeting to arrange these things Snow flower tells Lily of her life with her husband the troubles and heartbreak with him. Lily tells her what she was always told that you should follow the rules of womanhood, never taking a sympathetic and friendly ear. Lily takes this as criticisms, and this is where the misunderstanding happens and our friends break apart, but not forever.
The book ends sadly, with the horrible death of one of the main characters, BUT I will not say which one!! You will have to read the story to find out!

If you enjoyed Memior of a Geisha, you will absolutely adore this novel. I would highly highly highly recommend this book!

*** For more information on Foot Binding you should check out these websites!****


Andrea said...

I remember I really loved this book, but after reading your review I realize I don't remember it very well! I should read it again. Have you read Shanghai Girls by Amy See? It's on my TBR list so I plan on reading it sometime this year...I'm really looking forward to it!

Andrea said...

I mean Lisa See, not Amy See!!! I'm getting Lisa See and Amy Tan mixed up. ;-)

オテモヤン said...
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blondy365 said...

No I have no read that one the only two that I have read by this author is this "Snow Flower" and "Peony in Love" which was good, but I enjoyed Snow Flower so much more!

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