October 20, 2009

Review of: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

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.

Lily narrates Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. She has written her life (from age 5 to age 80) story. The early parts of her story are a bit graphic. Lily holds nothing back when discussing her foot-binding. I actually reached a point where I was preparing to rate Snow Flower and the Secret Fan DNF if the foot-binding part of Lily's story continued for much longer. Amanda J in my Chatting Chicks group told me to stick with it. I'm glad she did and I'm glad I listened to Amanda J. There were only a few more pages about the foot-binding process at that point before the story moved on.

Lily's story is not wholly her own. In particular her life is very much bound together (pun intended) with that of her laotong, Snow Flower. A laotong is explained in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan this way: "A laotong match is as significant as a good marriage," Lily's aunt explained. "A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose – to have sons."

Lily and Snow Flower go through so much together. Births, deaths, sickness, starvation. One misunderstanding of a written message on their fan causes much hurt on both sides. Something that I imagine could happen in this age of so many messages being sent electronically.

I am awarding Snow Flower and the Secret Fan my Hyacinth award.

Title: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Author: Lisa See
ISBN: 9780812968064
Pages: 269
Published by: Random House Trade Paperbacks (February 21st 2006 (first published 2005))
Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: I borrowed this book from my local library.
Grade: A+ What does this grade mean?

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