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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

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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 s 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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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 s 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.

30 review for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeana

    Wow. I just finished this book and wanted to come write about it immediately so I don't forget how it made me feel. First off, the language is beautiful and so fitting for the context. The two girls--Snow Flower and Lily--have a friendship that is beautiful and is fun to pick out little pieces from my own childhood/current friendships that I recognize and adore. My next thoughts are not necessarily critiques of the book, but of the way the Chinese thought: I had a real problem with hearing over Wow. I just finished this book and wanted to come write about it immediately so I don't forget how it made me feel. First off, the language is beautiful and so fitting for the context. The two girls--Snow Flower and Lily--have a friendship that is beautiful and is fun to pick out little pieces from my own childhood/current friendships that I recognize and adore. My next thoughts are not necessarily critiques of the book, but of the way the Chinese thought: I had a real problem with hearing over and over how worthless a woman is if she cannot produce a son. If that were still the case, I would be as worthless as they come. It bothered me that daughters were considered better off if they died than to live. And I thought Lily perpetuated that as unfeeling as the patriarchs who instilled that thought process to begin with. And don't get me started on footbinding. I know this is a cultural thing that I cannot begin to comprehend (such as people who think that is just the way life is, but still, how could they not think this through?) I mean, one of of ten girls died from footbinding. And not only does it make the foot look grotesque (which they thought was beautiful) but they were practically crippled for the rest of their lives. They had to be carried most distances after the age of six. It's simply ridiculous. But reading this book made me want to learn to embroider. I know it sounds ridiculous but I was actually looking for embroidery classes in the area where I could learn how to do it. And I want to do it with my daughter. The visual of these women embroidering together. It's just beautiful. There were so many beautiful quotes that I thought I'd list my favorites: This thought is a real comfort to me: "Everyone knows that part of the spirit descends to the afterworld, while part of it remains with the family, but we have a special belief about the spirit of a young woman who has died before her marriage that goes contrary to this. She comes back to prey upon other unmarried girls--not to scare them but to take them to the afterworld with her so she might have company." This is particarly interesting to me because after my daughter died, Biance would tell me about going to heaven with Miranda every night while she dreamed. Another quote I liked about teachers: "The classics tell us that, in relationships, the one between teacher and student comes second only to the one between parent and child." The last one is a bit lengthy, but I like it nonetheless: "If it is perfectly acceptable for a widow to disfigure herself or commit suicide to save face for her husband's family, why should a mother not be moved to extreme action by the loss of a child or children? We are their caretakers. We love them. We nurse them when they are sick. . . But no woman should live longer than her children. It is against the law of nature. If she does, why wouldn't she wish to leap from a cliff, hang from a branch, or swallow lye?" Overall, this was a sad, beautiful book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    I had high hopes for this book, but ended up feeling deflated and disappointed. Two aspects of the book were interesting: descriptions of the practice of Chinese footbinding, and an exploration of 'nu shu,' the written language Chinese women developed to communicate exclusively with each other. Unfortunately, the book also has two major problems: a boring story, and the use of cheap gimmicks instead of complex characterization. The story deals with two girls who are matched as 'old sames,' sort I had high hopes for this book, but ended up feeling deflated and disappointed. Two aspects of the book were interesting: descriptions of the practice of Chinese footbinding, and an exploration of 'nu shu,' the written language Chinese women developed to communicate exclusively with each other. Unfortunately, the book also has two major problems: a boring story, and the use of cheap gimmicks instead of complex characterization. The story deals with two girls who are matched as 'old sames,' sort of a best-girlfriend relationship that is meant to last for life. Unfortunately, the story of their friendship is just not compelling, and I kept feeling like the author missed the opportunity to tell a really interesting story within the context of the world she creates. Aside from being boring (the worst sin in fiction) I was also disappointed with the way she handled the intimacy of the friendship between the two women, using what I call the 'cheap and easy Hollywood method for showing intimacy.' In other words, she introduces sexual elements to show us just how 'close' these two women really are, rather than really taking us inside the complex world that is the relationship between two best girlfriends. I thought it was a really shallow treatment of a very deep subject. It was hugely disappointing. I don't recommend it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cassy

    My grandmother used to say that my big feet meant I had a “good foundation.” I’d stare longingly at her size-six feet when she said this and curse my genetic inheritance from elsewhere in the family tree. Then I had an ex-boyfriend make the infuriating statement that rich women have small feet. I pointed out that his celebrity crush, Paris Hilton (yeah, another reason I dumped him) has huge size-eleven feet. My teenage-self took a lot of comfort in the fact that foot size is pre-ordained and unc My grandmother used to say that my big feet meant I had a “good foundation.” I’d stare longingly at her size-six feet when she said this and curse my genetic inheritance from elsewhere in the family tree. Then I had an ex-boyfriend make the infuriating statement that rich women have small feet. I pointed out that his celebrity crush, Paris Hilton (yeah, another reason I dumped him) has huge size-eleven feet. My teenage-self took a lot of comfort in the fact that foot size is pre-ordained and unchangeable. Clown-sized feet can strike the smart, the rich, the beautiful. And there isn’t a damned thing they or I could do about it. Then I read this book and learn it is possible to change your foot size. It’s called foot binding. And you know what? I’ll pass. I enjoy being able to wiggle my toes and jump around. So, thank you, Lisa See! For once in my life, I am content with my big feet. And I owe it all to your graphic descriptions of this ancient Chinese method. Blood, putrefaction, pain, breaking bones, risk of death! I cannot believe those women were subjected to such brutal mutilation for the sake of beauty. Then they were still expected to clean the house perched on those tiny, unstable feet. The foot binding portion of the book was the highlight for me. The inspiration for the book was nu shu, a written language developed by Chinese women and kept secret from men for hundreds of years. Yawn. I didn’t find that part of the story very compelling or even believable. Didn’t men wonder why the ladies kept ink and brushes in their room? Beyond the foot biding event and nu shu device, this was really a story about a female friendship that was deep and even erotic at times. Putting aside any problems with the plot, their emotions toward each other were complex and meaningful. There was hope and joy, but mostly there was pain. During an event with Lisa last night, she spoke of how depressing writing can be. She doesn’t always wake up raring to write. Instead she may dread knowing she has to go to a dark, internal place to write about a character’s death or betrayal. Even worse, she may have to stay in that mindset for days or weeks until that section is completely written. I spend so much time glamorizing a writer’s lifestyle that I had not fully considered how emotionally draining it could be. I suspected the career engenders self-doubt. “Will people like what I’ve written?” Yet, I had never thought about the struggle Lisa described to create and inhabit the internal emotional environment necessary to produce the actual words. I commend Lisa for giving us a realistic look at the treatment of and expectations for women in that day and age. Women were isolated and undervalued. Their worth was determined solely by whether they could produce sons. But honestly, my main complaint about the book is how depressing it was. I kept waiting for some great act of heroism. Yet the women stuck to their traditional roles. The main character not only repeated the indoctrination, she believed it! “My role in life is to obey, obey, obey.” Sure, they rebelled in small ways, but always within the confines of their societal roles. I kept routing for one character to leave an abusive husband or, at very least, stand up to her oppressive mother-in-law. Normally I criticize authors for deviating from historical facts in order to cater to a modern readership. This time, I think Lisa stayed so true to the setting that she turned me off. (And her heavy-handed foreshadowing didn’t help.) Life was hard for women back then. I get it. But does that make for an enjoyable read? Not really. And I think that was my problem. I had the wrong expectations as I entered this book. It wasn't a sprawling historical epic, filled with exciting action, heart-fluttering romance, and distant voyages like Shogun (one of the few other historical fictions I have read that are set in Asia). It was a largely quiet book about quiet life. Lisa herself admitted she writes sad books. And when she started this book, no one thought it would be successful. China? Women? Gloom? No one will read that! Well, she proved them wrong. Lots of people read it. Heck, I read it. Even more people will probably see the movie. And it’s worth reading. It made me appreciate the freedom women enjoy today, as well as the potential depth of female friendship. Not to mention, I’m looking down at my feet right now and thinking, “hell yeah, that’s one beautiful, ergonomic piece of evolution – and just the right size."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Candi

    "For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me – as a girl and later as a woman – to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life." What a sad yet beautiful book this was! I adore historical fiction that can really immerse me in another time and place and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan did just that. Transported back to 19th century China, I believe I arrived at a better understanding of a woma "For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me – as a girl and later as a woman – to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life." What a sad yet beautiful book this was! I adore historical fiction that can really immerse me in another time and place and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan did just that. Transported back to 19th century China, I believe I arrived at a better understanding of a woman's position in this society. I learned what it was like to be a daughter, a sister, a wife and a daughter-in-law. I am admittedly grateful for not ever having to experience these often overwhelmingly harsh relationships in the way that these women did! Not for an instant can I imagine having to yearn for my mother's love with the feeling that it was something impossible to attain. And, I most certainly could not fathom bending to my mother-in-law's every command and needing to act as a lowly "visitor" in her home even as the wife of her own son. The cultural practice of footbinding was truly horrific and cringeworthy. If you, like me, decide to google any images, please consider yourself forewarned that it really does look as awful and disfiguring as you would no doubt imagine. Yet, a young girl's future and her marriageability depended heavily on the result of this archaic practice. The one relationship that I found endearing and one that transcends both time and culture is that of a true friendship. This is so beautifully demonstrated in the bond between the narrator, Lily, and Snow Flower, her "old same". Lisa See really brings to life the nuances of their lifelong friendship which began as little girls with a contract sealing their fates in a laotong relationship. "A laotong match is as significant as a good marriage… 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." We see the girls grow up together and experience the joys of childhood friendship – laughing, dreaming, and mourning together. The women's secret form of writing, or nu shu, begins with the communication between the little girls on the folds of a special fan that will provide a chronicle of their extraordinary relationship throughout their lives. As married women, they experience both the happiness and the sorrow of giving birth and living under the heavy thumbs of their husbands and mothers-in-law in households that scorn rather than cherish them. And, as with some friendships, these women experience the differences in social standings within a community and suffer from misunderstandings and ultimate betrayal. Can a friendship really withstand anything? This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in the culture of China during this period and those that enjoy reading about the various connections between women. If you've ever had a true friend, this book will truly speak to you and perhaps make you just a tad nostalgic about the carefree days when you could hope and giggle with your own "bestie". 

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dem

    A book is a magical thing, that lets you travel to far-away places without ever leaving your chair. Quote by Katrina Mayer. This week I have time travelled to nineteenth-century China, 1970s Texas, 1850s Louisiana and at the moment I am on a whistle stop tour with A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne and no 2 week isolation required when I return. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is my second novel by Lisa See having read Shanghai Girls a couple of years ago. Set in Nineteenth C A book is a magical thing, that lets you travel to far-away places without ever leaving your chair. Quote by Katrina Mayer. This week I have time travelled to nineteenth-century China, 1970s Texas, 1850s Louisiana and at the moment I am on a whistle stop tour with A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne and no 2 week isolation required when I return. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is my second novel by Lisa See having read Shanghai Girls a couple of years ago. Set in Nineteenth Century China and is the story of Lily an 80 year old woman who at the age of seven is paired with a laotong “old same” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. Her story is that of a secret world of writings that women shared and ancient Chinese customs of foot binding. An emotional and fascinating read and you cant help get drawn into the characters lives. I love when a book educates as well as entertains a reader and this novel has a lot of detail on Chinese customs and culture which I really enjoyed. A short book that really held my attention and another book for my real life book shelf.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X Off having adventures

    I tried to read it. It was so non-compelling, who were these little mice of women, what were they up to, why should I care? MAKE ME CARE. The plot didn't, the characters didn't and so I couldn't get past about page 50. My mind kept drifting off and by the time I was conscious of reading again I wouldn't know what had happened so I had to reread it again and again up unto the fourth rereading of the same pages. (Exactly the same experience I had with Rushdie's Satanic Verses). So I gave up. I tho I tried to read it. It was so non-compelling, who were these little mice of women, what were they up to, why should I care? MAKE ME CARE. The plot didn't, the characters didn't and so I couldn't get past about page 50. My mind kept drifting off and by the time I was conscious of reading again I wouldn't know what had happened so I had to reread it again and again up unto the fourth rereading of the same pages. (Exactly the same experience I had with Rushdie's Satanic Verses). So I gave up. I thought it was probably me and not the book, so I downloaded the film. Lord, was it bad or what? Exactly the same experience, it wasn't any more interesting. It's an experience I'm not going to have with the Satanic Verses though. I doubt there's a director (still) alive brave enough to make a film of that book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    An Excellent Choice for Book Clubs I had a hard time putting down this book and felt utterly transported to a village in the Hunan province in central south China during the early to mid-nineteenth century. The narrator, 80-year-old Lily, who refers to herself as one who has "yet to die," tells the story of her life. She has outlived her family members and relates the story of her formative years--and her relationship with another woman, Snow Flower. This well written tale is related with clarit An Excellent Choice for Book Clubs I had a hard time putting down this book and felt utterly transported to a village in the Hunan province in central south China during the early to mid-nineteenth century. The narrator, 80-year-old Lily, who refers to herself as one who has "yet to die," tells the story of her life. She has outlived her family members and relates the story of her formative years--and her relationship with another woman, Snow Flower. This well written tale is related with clarity, sentiment, and most poignantly, remorse. It's through remorse that the reader comes to know the true character of Lily, as she reflects upon a misunderstanding she had with her one true love. Beyond the reflection of Lily's relationship with Snow Flower, a girl she meets at the age of six when they are introduced by the local matchmaker and tied by contract to forever be known as "laotongs," or "old sames," this story provides a lesson in Chinese history and culture. Many have heard of the tradition of feet binding, but through Lisa See's writing, one experiences the excruciating pain and the meaning behind a mother's duty to bind her "worthless" daughters' feet. It's all about marriage and, of course, sex. At once I went to the Internet to look for images of bound feet because I had a terribly hard time visualizing a foot only seven centimeters in length. I enjoyed every minute of reading this story and I highly recommend it. I think it would make an excellent selection for book clubs, given the vast number of elements to spark topics of conversation: Chinese culture--past and present; Mother-daughter relationships; Foot-binding; Arranged marriage; Female relationships; Lesbian relationships (?); Chinese history; Chinese foods; Chinese geography, etc.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    Read and reviewed in 2008. Review updated in 2020 - without rereading the book - to focus on "secret" languages. This is a first person tale of a Chinese girl in mid the 19th century. It's a poignant story that quietly teaches a lot about the culture of the time and place: poverty, footbinding, marriage, and particularly sisterhood/laotong - a legalistic long-term exclusive "old-same" friendship with another girl. Image: A secret fan, from the BBC article (link below). I enjoyed more as it progres Read and reviewed in 2008. Review updated in 2020 - without rereading the book - to focus on "secret" languages. This is a first person tale of a Chinese girl in mid the 19th century. It's a poignant story that quietly teaches a lot about the culture of the time and place: poverty, footbinding, marriage, and particularly sisterhood/laotong - a legalistic long-term exclusive "old-same" friendship with another girl. Image: A secret fan, from the BBC article (link below). I enjoyed more as it progressed and you see different sides to the main characters. Nǚshū - the secret language of women This book was my introduction to Nǚshū, a script women used to support each other, especially in the early days after marriage. I've occasionally read about Nǚshū since then, and again just now (October 2020) in a Language Log post, and the somewhat romanticised BBC article it links to. The apparent contradiction that annoyed me a dozen years ago (that an "illiterate" mother writes something for her grandmother's funeral only 15 pages later) is a mere misunderstanding: many of the women who learned Nǚshū were illiterate - in regular Chinese characters. But they were not - obviously - illiterate in Nǚshū. I think Nǚshū is even more aesthetically pleasing than normal Chinese calligraphy, and both articles are worth reading (click the links in the paragraph above). Image: Nǚshū, from the Language Log article (link above). Other gendered languages? Sociologists observe differences in the spoken, written, and body language of men and women (John Gray probably mentions it at exaggerated length in Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus). The difference is that it's a spectrum of the same language: men, women, and anyone in between are, to some extent, aware of these differences. I do wonder how "secret" Nǚshū really was. I assume some men knew of its existence, and probably a few learned it. How much might that dilute its usefulness? I've wondered the same about the police's Ask for Angela scheme: a discreet phrase customers can say to bar staff if they feel threatened. A nice idea, but it's widely advertised. Abusers will know of it. There's irony in the fact that "Today, much of what we know about Nüshu is due to the work of male researcher" (BBC article).

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (not getting friends updates) Vegan

    I ended up enjoying this book because it was so beautifully written and it took me deep into a world so unlike my own; thank goodness for that! This story takes place in China’s Hunan Province in the 1800s and is more about the inner lives of the women than the men. I had a complete misconception of what foot binding entailed. It’s completely different, and so much more brutal a practice than I ever could have imagined. There were also many examples given of what I consider other horrendous cust I ended up enjoying this book because it was so beautifully written and it took me deep into a world so unlike my own; thank goodness for that! This story takes place in China’s Hunan Province in the 1800s and is more about the inner lives of the women than the men. I had a complete misconception of what foot binding entailed. It’s completely different, and so much more brutal a practice than I ever could have imagined. There were also many examples given of what I consider other horrendous customs and beliefs. I’ve always believed that tradition and culture that harms is not worth preserving and reading about these people’s lives was a painful experience. The story is fiction but well researched so I’m assuming there was much truth about how women led their lives in that time and place. I was able to feel some empathy for the storywriter, because I could understand her longing to be loved and the difficulties she had in her upbringing that formed her personality, even though I sometimes had a hard time liking her and many of the characters. I was also irritated by so much of the book. I loathe stories where there’s a horrible miscommunication or misunderstanding that seems so unnecessary, and there’s an example of that here. Also, throughout the book, the narrator is writing the story of her life for another/others in her culture to read, yet the whole time I felt she was educating us in our time & places. So frequently the line “as you know” or “as everyone knows” is used to start a sentence, and I just kept thinking that if everyone knows it the narrator wouldn’t need to say it in that way. The narrator also most of the way through the book alludes to something she’s going to tell the reader and it got to the point where, instead of following along with the story, I just wanted to see what she was going to reveal. I think that it’s worth it to read the paperback copy because of Lisa See’s notes at the end about the writing of this book,. Perhaps they were there in the hardcover version as well, but often additions such as this aren’t there at publication of the hardcover edition. Also, the paperback has some discussion questions at the end which might come in handy as I read this book for my book club. The plot & characters did make me think about however women are regarded and what is considered beautiful in various cultures, including our own, can powerfully influence women’s lives. And they also highlight how our various expectations of ourselves and others imposed by our societies can influence human beings. It also made me think a lot about the corrosive power of unresolved anger and trauma.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rowena

    This has got to be one of the most beautiful, yet heartbreaking books that I have ever read. The subject matter is horrific but the story is truly engaging. The main storyline in this book is about the horrible patriarchal practise, foot-binding, that took place in China in the past. The graphic descriptions in this book are certain to turn anyone’s stomach. I would like to know who decided that 7 centimetre-long feet were “sexy.” The obsession with feet truly perplexed me; how could young men kn This has got to be one of the most beautiful, yet heartbreaking books that I have ever read. The subject matter is horrific but the story is truly engaging. The main storyline in this book is about the horrible patriarchal practise, foot-binding, that took place in China in the past. The graphic descriptions in this book are certain to turn anyone’s stomach. I would like to know who decided that 7 centimetre-long feet were “sexy.” The obsession with feet truly perplexed me; how could young men know nothing about their future betrothed wives except what size their feet were? Obviously foot-binding was a practice to control women, which was a point I made to a feminist I was talking to when a man suddenly interrupted our conversation and accused us of waging a war against men! Also, it’s so sad how culturally women were undervalued in Chinese society. They suffered so much abuse and, from a very young age, they were cultivated for marriage because, after all, all women were good for was for giving birth to sons. Everything they did was to prepare them for marriage yet when they eventually married their in-laws weren’t even satisfied and everyone was miserable. What’s the point? Excuse my sarcastic tone but I cannot wrap my head around how awful this part of Chinese history is. Instead of protecting women in society, women were made to feel worthless and their lives are also put into peril. It was truly heartbreaking. Lisa See brilliantly captured the reality of Chinese life in the past. I also thought that part of the book about the laotang and sisterhood was lovely, as well as the parts about the secret writing, and the art of storytelling. Definitely a great book but not one that I’d ever read again, it’s too distressing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Barbara H

    I actually wavered between giving this book a rating of 3 or 4 stars. This is not because Lisa See was unable to portray the life in this feudal Chinese society well, because much of this was vivid and interesting. The oppression of women, including the horrors of footbinding, isolation and servitude to men and one's in-laws were all clearly and often dismayingly illustrated. One problem with this novel is how much better the tale could have been related if written in the third person, rather tha I actually wavered between giving this book a rating of 3 or 4 stars. This is not because Lisa See was unable to portray the life in this feudal Chinese society well, because much of this was vivid and interesting. The oppression of women, including the horrors of footbinding, isolation and servitude to men and one's in-laws were all clearly and often dismayingly illustrated. One problem with this novel is how much better the tale could have been related if written in the third person, rather than the use of Lily as narrator. After learning throughout this book that she was a sensitive, caring, pledged lifelong friend; she becomes a cruel,selfish and judgemental harridan to Snow Flower. These very factors were so antithetical to what was supposed to have been developed between these two women and what they had always professed would be their relationship, that it was difficult to continue the reading with the same attitude of enjoyment and appreciation. I often found that See did not work hard enough to develop either her plot lines or her characters. She often glossed over some segments, seemingly in order to reach her next period of time. Despite these criticisms, I found this book often compelling with a level of anticipation for the reader.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    2010 F.A.B. Bookclub pick # I.❤️. F.A.B. While I found the historic aspects of the book fascinating, it was a fairly depressing read. I was holding onto hope that it would become uplifting at some point. There is no happiness in this book. I don't know if I'd recommend it to anyone. It wasn't bad, but It wasn't amazing either. 2010 F.A.B. Bookclub pick # I.❤️. F.A.B. While I found the historic aspects of the book fascinating, it was a fairly depressing read. I was holding onto hope that it would become uplifting at some point. There is no happiness in this book. I don't know if I'd recommend it to anyone. It wasn't bad, but It wasn't amazing either.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a 2005 novel by Lisa See set in nineteenth-century China. In rural Hunan province, a county in China, Lily and her friend Snow Flower are a laotong pair whose sisterly relationship is far stronger and closer than a husband and wife's. Lily's aunt describes a laotong match this way: "A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a 2005 novel by Lisa See set in nineteenth-century China. In rural Hunan province, a county in China, Lily and her friend Snow Flower are a laotong pair whose sisterly relationship is far stronger and closer than a husband and wife's. Lily's aunt describes a laotong match this way: "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." 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. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز دهم ماه اکتبر اسل 2014 میلادی عنوان: ‏‫گل برفی و بادبزن مخفی‬‏‫؛ نویسنده: لیزا سی‮‬‏‫؛ مترجم: شهرزاد بیات‌موحد؛ کرج: در دانش بهمن ‫، 1392؛ شابک: 9789641741589؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان چینی تبار ایالات متحده امریکای - سده 21 م رمان، در یک کلام، با آنچه تاکنون خوانده‌ ام، متفاوت بود. داستان گل برفی و بادبزن مخفی، که «لیزا سی» نویسنده ی چینی تبار امریکایی آن را نوشته، همچون رویایی در بیداری، تسخیر کننده، و سحرانگیز است، و فراموش کردن آن بی‌تردید امکان ندارد. «لیلی» دختر کشاورزی فقیر است، و برای خانواده‌ اش، صرفاً یک دهان و شکم دیگر است، البته که سیر کردن آن، گران تمام می‌شود. روزی دلال ازدواج محلی، خبرهای حیرت‌ انگیز می‌آورد: اگر پاهای «لیلی» خوب بسته شوند، بسیار بی‌نقص خواهند بود. در چین سده ی نوزدهم میلادی، جایی که شایستگی زنی از روی شکل و اندازة پایش قضاوت می‌شود، این خوش‌ اقبالی فوق‌ العاده‌ ای ست. «لیلی» حالا توانایی ازدواجی خوب، و تغییر دادن وضعیت خانواده‌ اش را دارد...؛ وی، به منظور آمادگی برای زندگی تازه‌ اش، باید درد بستن پا را تحمل کند، «نوشو»، نوشتار مشهور مخفی زنانه را، یاد بگیرد، و با «گل برفی» دوستی ویژه برقرار سازد. اما یک تغییر تلخ سرنوشت، در شرف تغییر دادن همه‌ چیز است. شگفتی این کتاب این است که خوانشگر را به مکانی می‌برد، که هم غریبه و هم آشناست...؛ داستانی زیبا و جانگداز...؛ روایت حیرت‌ انگیز نویسنده، در قالب تصویری بی‌پایان از دوستی‌ طی چند دهه، با حسادت، خیانت، عشق و وفاداری ژرف، و تغییرناپذیر، همراه خوانشگر است. ا. شربیانی

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Ever since reading Memoirs of a Geisha, I've been looking for a book that will let me relive that excitement. So I was hoping that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan would fit the bill for my craving for Asian drama :) I would have to say that this book did not. I found it difficult to get invested in the characters who seemed somewhat flat to me. The narrator wasn't engaging enough to make me feel a connection to her. Really, the strength of the book in my opinion was the detail it spent in developi Ever since reading Memoirs of a Geisha, I've been looking for a book that will let me relive that excitement. So I was hoping that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan would fit the bill for my craving for Asian drama :) I would have to say that this book did not. I found it difficult to get invested in the characters who seemed somewhat flat to me. The narrator wasn't engaging enough to make me feel a connection to her. Really, the strength of the book in my opinion was the detail it spent in developing an understanding of the cultural issues surrounding Chinese women and the custom of footbinding. Which, of course, is horrible mutilation to a woman living in the 21st century Western world, but was the very epitome of beauty and sexual turn-on for 19th century Chinese. So I would say it gets an A+ for effectively fleshing out that cultural way of life, but probably just a "B-" for characters. I wanted to care more about them than I did, but when the book was over, I was more interested in Googling pictures of bound feet than mourning the loss of their friendship and the misunderstandings that undid the two main characters.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Moses Kilolo

    Brilliant. A spectacular book. I haven’t read anything this deeply affecting for quite a while {at least on the level of love and relationships}. I was hooked from the beginning. And the grace and depth of Lisa See’s storytelling had me contemplating about life and the deeds and the choices we make concerning our own lives, those that are made on our behalf and how all these affects those who we most cherish. Fate. Is it something nature, or us, or others, or some higher power design for us? Is i Brilliant. A spectacular book. I haven’t read anything this deeply affecting for quite a while {at least on the level of love and relationships}. I was hooked from the beginning. And the grace and depth of Lisa See’s storytelling had me contemplating about life and the deeds and the choices we make concerning our own lives, those that are made on our behalf and how all these affects those who we most cherish. Fate. Is it something nature, or us, or others, or some higher power design for us? Is it really predestined, as these girls were made to believe? Ever since that first message that Snow Flower send little Lily, when they were just children, the stage was set for what was meant to be a lifetime of friendship. As events unfold, as life happens, an absolutely heartbreaking and unforgettable story is woven. It also reminded me of Adichie’s the danger of a single story – given that I recently read The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, where I was first introduced to the Chinese practice of foot binding. From what I’ve gathered from this book, it loosely equates to Female Genital Mutilation, which until recently has been widely practiced here in Africa. And what a cruel thing it is – girls so young stand the risk of actually dying in the process, like happened to Lily’s sister. Lisa, however, goes beyond this, which she has offered in an heartfelt detail, to other aspects of the Chinese culture – especially those that of concern to women. Quite fascinating is the issue of nu shu, one of the central themes, which is described as the women’s secret writing. Under all that isolation and oppression that these women suffered, it is a wonderful thing that they invented a secret code/language/writting in which they could communicate in secret, offer and share comfort. Lisa See’s narrative is beautiful, and from the writing itself you may discern a depth that arises not only from research and writing talent, but from the heart of a writer who knows the matters of the heart. From her’s to all others that will come across this wonderfully crafted, deeply felt work of fiction. It is an amazing lesson on friendship too, and of course – that deep heart love.

  16. 5 out of 5

    ✨Bean's Books✨

    Such a sad story. Snow Flower and Lily are laotong. They are "old sames". Joined forever in a bond of sisterhood that runs deeper than blood since the time of their foot binding (7 years old). But life's hardships has no mercy for these two young women. and as women in China their life holds no value. Can their laotong bond withstand the tragedies that life throws at them? This book was a glimpse into the lives of women in China before the 19th century. It was very interesting in many respects. Th Such a sad story. Snow Flower and Lily are laotong. They are "old sames". Joined forever in a bond of sisterhood that runs deeper than blood since the time of their foot binding (7 years old). But life's hardships has no mercy for these two young women. and as women in China their life holds no value. Can their laotong bond withstand the tragedies that life throws at them? This book was a glimpse into the lives of women in China before the 19th century. It was very interesting in many respects. The book had obviously been very well-researched before written down. I have to say the one chapter that I absolutely did not like was the chapter where they explain in great detail the horror of the process of foot binding for young women in China. This chapter was so detailed and written in such a way that it became so real that it made me physically ill. Like I seriously wanted to throw up! With all of the sorrow and pain that these two women endure there is lots in this book about the happiness and joy that life brings them as well. These were my favorite chapters. I especially loved the chapter that ended right before their first children were to be born. This was probably the peak of happiness in this book and was very well written. It is more than sad what women had to endure in this time. To grow up believing that you are worthless unless you bear a son which you have no control over. And even then to be categorized as lower than a dog in the household... just disgusting. But it is a harsh reality that we all have to face in the fact that that is the way it was. We cannot erase history but rather we can learn from it as we move forward. I have said it before and I will say it again, this book is very well written. The storyline as well thought-out, well-researched and very easy to follow. The characters are more than identifiable even with their (now) alien way of living to someone who lives in the western world. And as a woman reading this book I found myself wanting deep down to have a laotong of my very own 💞. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone but especially to women in order to get better perspective on their life and to enjoy a good story about the bonds of sisterhood.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Garnette

    My book club was more interested in talking about their trips to China than See's book. So I am happy for Good Reads. While I found the writing journalistic: that is competent, extremely well researched, fast paced, page-turning, I cannot truly say it was well written. No phrase or passage noteworthy for its beauty or addition to literature. I was fascinated, however, by the potential for beautiful prose but lists just don't do that for me. The publisher's missed an opportunity to replicate the My book club was more interested in talking about their trips to China than See's book. So I am happy for Good Reads. While I found the writing journalistic: that is competent, extremely well researched, fast paced, page-turning, I cannot truly say it was well written. No phrase or passage noteworthy for its beauty or addition to literature. I was fascinated, however, by the potential for beautiful prose but lists just don't do that for me. The publisher's missed an opportunity to replicate the secret fan from See's clues - would have been a bonus. The dynamics of the women's relationships were fascinating, reminiscent of The Joy Luck Club. I sorrowed at the footbound therefore dutybound therefore ironbound feminine mind. Why did See not correlate the inter-relationship between body, mind and spirit? The bound feet reflected the bounded mind, bound by the society, filtered by necessity through the mother-jailers also prisoners of the system. Still, I longed for Lily of the Golden Lilies to recognize that with her smart thinking she had the ability to lessen Snow Flower's burden, a bit of rice here, some smuggled cloth there, cash, quilts. I even thought Snow Flower could have been brought in as a concubine. Lots of juicy plot possibility there. And I wonder at the morality of the wealthy women who could cast out her beloved friend without a hearing. To publicly humiliate an already humiliated person who had everything to lose from the shunning while Lily had won only an egoist's victory. And lost the one who loved her most in the ego-frenzy. Conversation over tea, sitting in the innner room and sugar-crackled tofu would on the other hand not have served See's plot. Hard to read while the Chinese government was strong-arming Tibet. The mental foot binding continues - not only in China of course.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ace

    I really hate cultures that put the importance of one human being over another and particularly boys over girls (mine included). But, Lisa See did a great job in taking us into the hearts and souls of two women and the hardships and love that they lived, endured and suffered over their lifetime. There are many tigger warnings here, foot-binding, disrespectful treatment of women by men and by women and some very poverty stricken circumstances makes for very difficult reading. If you want a more t I really hate cultures that put the importance of one human being over another and particularly boys over girls (mine included). But, Lisa See did a great job in taking us into the hearts and souls of two women and the hardships and love that they lived, endured and suffered over their lifetime. There are many tigger warnings here, foot-binding, disrespectful treatment of women by men and by women and some very poverty stricken circumstances makes for very difficult reading. If you want a more thorough understanding or review of this book, I suggest you read one of the other 300 thousand reviews. I don't have any energy left after finishing this one. Sigh.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Evelina | AvalinahsBooks

    I LOVED Snow Flower and the Secret Fan! It was sad, yet fulfilling, true and honest, yet fictional. A truly moving story about the hardships of being a woman in nineteenth-century China. Yes, foot binding too. We'll get there. By the way, this is going to be a buddy read review, so get ready to read a lot of questions and answers! If you want to read the interview questions and answers, read them on my blog here, as it is too long to put into a Goodreads review. In nineteenth century Chi I LOVED Snow Flower and the Secret Fan! It was sad, yet fulfilling, true and honest, yet fictional. A truly moving story about the hardships of being a woman in nineteenth-century China. Yes, foot binding too. We'll get there. By the way, this is going to be a buddy read review, so get ready to read a lot of questions and answers! If you want to read the interview questions and answers, read them on my blog here, as it is too long to put into a Goodreads review. In nineteenth century China, a girl from a poor family is paired into a lifelong female friendship match with a girl from a family of a higher social standing. So her life begins, and we learn about it through her own eyes, as she is growing up. Not only does Snow Flower and the Secret Fan extensively cover the woman's place and life in pre-modern China, but it's also a tale about sisterhood, trust and empathy, as well as just being a good human being, no matter what your circumstances are -- or failing to be one. Read the full review here. You might like this book, if you liked these books: I have quite an assortment of books for this one! First of all, naturally I'm going to recommend another novel of Lisa See's that tells about the traditions of a different minority of the Chinese people: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane . Meanwhile, if you are more into reading about courtesans, you might enjoy Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement , which is also a tale of hardship and involves some foot binding and other traditions, but in a completely different situation for the main character. I will even go as far as saying that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has ties to The Handmaid's Tale , because it's about strong female relationships in a terribly restricting, even violent society for women. Brick Lane is also from a different cultural context, not China - however, it also deals with women's freedom and the woman's place in different cultures. And The Secrets of Jin-Shei is fantasy, and might have one or two cliches, but it's also the only (older!) book that I've read that uses nu shu as a part of the plot. Read Post on My Blog | My Bookstagram | Bookish Twitter

  20. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    The story revolves around Lily and Snow Flower, two girls in rural China who - as seven-year-olds - become laogong, official lifelong best friends. The girls have their feet bound on the same day (a horrifying practice in which a girl's feet are bound until the bones break and they can be contorted into a small shape), visit on occasion, and frequently write each other on a fan in a language called Nu Shu or women's writing - supposedly unreadable by men. Nu Shu As the girls grow up they marry, mo The story revolves around Lily and Snow Flower, two girls in rural China who - as seven-year-olds - become laogong, official lifelong best friends. The girls have their feet bound on the same day (a horrifying practice in which a girl's feet are bound until the bones break and they can be contorted into a small shape), visit on occasion, and frequently write each other on a fan in a language called Nu Shu or women's writing - supposedly unreadable by men. Nu Shu As the girls grow up they marry, move to their husbands familial homes, have children, and face the many challenges of being a woman in 19th century China. Traditionally, women in China had no rights. Once their feet were bound girls were mostly confined to a 'woman's room' where they sewed and embroidered and so on, and - once married - were expected to obey their husbands and mothers-in-law and to produce sons. In Chinese culture it seems wives jobs were to have sons, and this is almost all they were good for. The husbands, on the other hand, could apparently do whatever they liked - take concubines, beat their wives, discard their wives, etc. Chinese man with concubines From the first time they meet as children Lily and Snow Flower have a strong emotional bond. They share hopes and dreams and plan to be friends forever. Secrets in Snow Flower's life challenge the friendship but the girls' manage to get past this and maintain their bond. Eventually Lily makes a fortunate marriage into an influential family with a decent husband while Snow Flower marries into a low family that treats her badly. Lily produces two strong sons while Snow Flower endures difficult pregnancies, miscarriages, and stillbirths - and when she finally has a son - he is a weakling who seems destined to die young. In time both women go on to produce more children, and when they have daughters, plan that the girls will also be laogong. In China, a woman was expected to produce sons Through it all - as Snow Flower's difficulties come to weigh heavily on her - Lily is constantly counseling her best friend to behave correctly, be a good wife, obey her husband, placate her mother-in-law, and continue to get pregnant. Events conspire to produce a crisis between the friends where their true feelings are dramatically exposed. It was interesting to read about the Chinese traditions, lifestyles, and people of the time but the book is slow and meandering and the characters, though well-drawn, were not likable and hard to care about. In addition - for me - the description of how women were treated is hard to stomach. I was also reminded that the devaluation of women continues in China today - where female infants are often killed or discarded. This ensures that many men can't find women to marry. One might speculate that - with the one child policy - the Chinese government should have seen this coming. For those interested in learning about 19th century China I'd recommend reading a non-fiction book and skipping this one. You can follow my reviews at http://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot.com/

  21. 4 out of 5

    Joy D

    Set in China in the early to mid -19th century, this book tells of a deep friendship between two women, Lily and Snow Flower. Their relationship, known as a laotong, is intended to last a lifetime. It begins when they are children and is arranged by a matchmaker. The girls learn and communicate in a secret women’s-only written language, nu shu, which differs significantly from men’s writing. Snow Flower and Lily inscribe messages on a fan and send it by courier to each other, similar to a pen pa Set in China in the early to mid -19th century, this book tells of a deep friendship between two women, Lily and Snow Flower. Their relationship, known as a laotong, is intended to last a lifetime. It begins when they are children and is arranged by a matchmaker. The girls learn and communicate in a secret women’s-only written language, nu shu, which differs significantly from men’s writing. Snow Flower and Lily inscribe messages on a fan and send it by courier to each other, similar to a pen pal, at major milestones in their lives. At age eighty, Lily is looking back on her life and recording their stories for a specific reason, which will eventually be revealed. The book is a deep examination of Chinese culture of the era through the eyes of its women at a time when women were expected to be subservient to men and to produce sons. This story includes the horrors of foot-binding, which was seen as a sign of beauty – the ideal was seven centimeters. I had heard of foot-binding but had no idea of what it entailed. Other cultural aspects include social classes, official ceremonies, traditions, and storytelling. This book is beautifully written and provides a sense of a real relationship between these women, filled with love, conflict, and heartbreak. As with the best historical fiction, it transports the reader to a time and place and feels authentic. I was able to picture the region in my mind’s eye through Lisa See’s detailed descriptions of the food, weather, clothing, and landscapes. I gained an appreciation for the arduous lives of the women of the time and what they endured. This one will stay in my memory for a long while.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    uuughughghghghg ugh ugh ugh. i can't read about foot binding anymore. it literally makes me sick to my stomach. this is mostly due to a 15 minute video displayed twice every hour in a small missionary museum in new mexico. the sole purpose of this museum, for reasons i still can't explain, was to display unusual world practices encountered by missionaries around the globe, throughout history. my parents, wishing to enliven and culture my young and spongelike brain, (and also having nothing else t uuughughghghghg ugh ugh ugh. i can't read about foot binding anymore. it literally makes me sick to my stomach. this is mostly due to a 15 minute video displayed twice every hour in a small missionary museum in new mexico. the sole purpose of this museum, for reasons i still can't explain, was to display unusual world practices encountered by missionaries around the globe, throughout history. my parents, wishing to enliven and culture my young and spongelike brain, (and also having nothing else to entertain me with as the entire state of new mexico is boring as all get out to drive through and so damn hot you can't even sit on the grass at the rest stops) set me free in this twisted little house for 2 hours when i was eight. it was full of fun things, like pictures of kayan woman proudly displaying their neck rings, and the perfume pouches french royalty wore to ward off fleas and lice, and examples of poisoned darts that papa new guinea tribes used to hunt down white explorers in the 1700's... yay! And it also had this little dark room, with cute little chairs just my size, and teensy little brocade shoes just outside the entrance. and everybody loves teensy shoes, people. do you blame me for being fascinated? the guy in the video, however, scary. he was fat, balding, and holding a little model of a foot's skeleton just the size of my own. he used this to show how a woman's foot would be wrapped in anceint china, to press the ball of the foot towards the heel. and then he actually pressed. slowly. until the bones snapped and the ball and heel were touching. and then someone in the production process must have decided this wasn't realistic enough, so they had this cute little asian-girl actress come out and demonstrate, through blurry lens shots and muted screams, what this procedure might have felt like. when they found me later i was hypnotized, sitting with my feet tucked under my butt clutching the toes of my tennis shoes. now, like many of you goodreads devotees, i had an overactive imagination as a child. i spent a good deal of time after that experience imaging what i would do if i grew up in that time period. you know, how i would escape. because of course i had to escape. can you imagine what that would feel like? but people would find me! and hold me down! or the emperor would catch me and chop off my head! there was no escape! lots of girls would have to do it! or did it! augh! it must have been HORRIBLE for them! HORRIBLE! AUGHHH! ...consequently, i decided that to make myself feel better about the 50 majillion little asian girls a long time ago, i would just pretend that foot binding never happened. just, like, stick to american girl novels and the occasional "dear america" journal (medieval europe only though) till i was 12. or, you know, longer. and that's worked out pretty good for me, until this book. ms. see does a pretty amazing job resurrecting all those horribly emphatic feelings. her characters are fleshed out so well that it's hard not to see and feel through them. and even though the story is beautiful, there's a lot of history in there to see and feel. This is not like "Sex and the Zhejiang Province", or those awesome soap operas out of Shanghai recently where everybody runs around an ancient chinese palace set waving fans and giggling and pouring tea and crying and having babies and being banished and what not. Every main character in "Snow Flower" pretty much gets crapped upon continuously throughout their lives until they get too old to negotiate their way higher on the social food chain and just sit back and let their grandkids take care of them. Or you know, die. (NOT A SPOILER! Don't even try.) which is basically awesome. definitely my kind of realistic, historical novel. i'm just warning everybody... don't wiki it. don't. you don't need to see the x-rays. because they're gonna stick with you, in tiny little grotesque foot nightmares. and you'll be stuck, for the rest of the book, pretending foot binding means everyone got to wear pretty tube socks in bright colors.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    When a girl, obey your father; when a wife, obey your husband; when a widow, obey your son. At the age of seven, Lily has already found her laotong, a person with whom her friendship will last a lifetime. Though they are both born in the year of the horse, at first glance Snow Flower transcends anything and anyone Lily has ever known. The two girls write to each other in nu shu, the secret language of Chinese women, and their bond blossoms - together, they endure the painful practice of foot bind When a girl, obey your father; when a wife, obey your husband; when a widow, obey your son. At the age of seven, Lily has already found her laotong, a person with whom her friendship will last a lifetime. Though they are both born in the year of the horse, at first glance Snow Flower transcends anything and anyone Lily has ever known. The two girls write to each other in nu shu, the secret language of Chinese women, and their bond blossoms - together, they endure the painful practice of foot binding, the trials and tribulations of arranged marriages, and the joys and sorrows of motherhood. At the age of 80, Lily recounts their shared lives, including the tragic incident that may have tore them apart. Many people praise two elements within Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: foot binding and nu shu. Foot binding disturbs me no matter how many times I read about it. Though it does reveal a lot about women within Chinese society and what they suffered through for status, I still had to take deep breaths and numb my mind with music when I read the scene where Lily and her sisters had their feet bound. Nu shu also adds a cultural component to the context of the story, and from the author's note in the back of the book I could tell Lisa See researched it extensively. Because the narrative of the book entails Lily looking back on her entire life, the writing comes across as detached and clinical at times. While Lisa See still incorporates wonderful imagery whenever Lily manages to escape the women's chamber, her passive perspective provides us with an authentic view of women within China's social hierarchy. Yes, it really does suck to read about the abuses women suffered at the hands of those they held closest to them. But through Lily's experience we gain a greater fortitude against such behavior - and we learn that friendship can help us fight it. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan draws almost all of its strength from Lily and Snow Flower's friendship. If I were to discuss it in a book club setting, foot binding, nu shu, and the role of women in Chinese society would all serve as appetizers. The laotong relationship between Snow Flower and Lily would act as my meal. It encompasses endless emotions and ideas: love, shared sadness, bittersweet humor, longing, and my favorite, redemption. Lily's character in relation to Snow Flower and the actions they take because of each other amaze me. Within a minute I could relate their bond to affirmative action, the psychological rules of attraction, my own personal friendships, and much more. Highly recommended for those in search of a quiet, poignant story. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is by no means a thriller, but it is profoundly touching, to say the very least. *review cross-posted on my blog, the quiet voice.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Soledad

    Have you ever wanted to know how it would have been if you would have lived in another time, like the Roaring Twenties, or ancient Egypt or Rome? Well the book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, took me to 19th century China. I felt like I had lived with Lily and experience her hardships, like her foot binding. This book made me realize how lucky I am to have been born in the 20th century, and to the culture I was born in. Everything that Lily and Snow Flower experience makes this book Have you ever wanted to know how it would have been if you would have lived in another time, like the Roaring Twenties, or ancient Egypt or Rome? Well the book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, took me to 19th century China. I felt like I had lived with Lily and experience her hardships, like her foot binding. This book made me realize how lucky I am to have been born in the 20th century, and to the culture I was born in. Everything that Lily and Snow Flower experience makes this book one of the best books I have read in the past couple of years. There way of life, what was expected of them, having no choice in their future, it amazes me to know that similar situations still happen in 2008. Anyway, this book tells of the story of how two people can become one, and how human mistakes can change people’s lives. Lisa See brings to life a world that has long been gone, the landscape and food of 19th century China are reborn in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The setting of the book, and the imagery all add to the emotional rollercoaster you experience in this book. You also get a first hand understanding of the culture Lily and Snow Flower grow up in. The only thing that these women were expected to do was learn to cook and clean, obey their mother, father and older brothers. They were also expected to marry, with a guy that the family thought would be proper. They were also expected to get their ‘foot binding’ when they were six years old. They had no free will, and were not encouraged to think about anything other than caring for the home, children, and satisfying their husband. Lily and Snow Flower were lucky to be laotong, or “old same.” Lily and Snow Flower also had the privilege to learn the language that had been made by women for women in Chain, a way to communicate with each other without the men knowing what was being said. The language was known as nu sh. Lily and Snow Flower are destined to be friends, but they become sister, and as we know sisters have fights, but for Lily her ignorance leads to her to become prideful. But if you wish to know more about the life of Lily and Snow Flower you must read this book, it will make you smile and cry, but it will give you a sample of the incredible life of women in 19th century China.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Addie H

    I have a whole life to tell; I have nothing left to lose and few to offend. Three quarters of this book was fascinating. An enthralling glimpse of a way of life in China that was beyond harsh. I was utterly enthralled to read about the friendship between Snow Flower and Lily. The last quarter takes a surprisingly dark twist, and it threw me a bit. There are some rather dramatic events that felt a bit out of place, and ultimately I didn't quite understand Lily's extreme behaviour. That said, the en I have a whole life to tell; I have nothing left to lose and few to offend. Three quarters of this book was fascinating. An enthralling glimpse of a way of life in China that was beyond harsh. I was utterly enthralled to read about the friendship between Snow Flower and Lily. The last quarter takes a surprisingly dark twist, and it threw me a bit. There are some rather dramatic events that felt a bit out of place, and ultimately I didn't quite understand Lily's extreme behaviour. That said, the ending brought it somewhat nicely back together. The writing is very beautiful, and I would definitely recommend reading this unique, fictional historical novel.

  26. 5 out of 5

    K

    My review from Amazon (back in the days before I discovered goodreads!) -- I read this several years ago, but felt compelled to start a literary argument with my sister when I heard she actually liked this book. ;) "The Secret Life of Bees" meets "Women of the Silk" I'm getting a little tired of the "female friendship" genre that seems to pervade contemporary literature these days. While there are some better-written examples of this category, many of them seem to be written with the agenda of ext My review from Amazon (back in the days before I discovered goodreads!) -- I read this several years ago, but felt compelled to start a literary argument with my sister when I heard she actually liked this book. ;) "The Secret Life of Bees" meets "Women of the Silk" I'm getting a little tired of the "female friendship" genre that seems to pervade contemporary literature these days. While there are some better-written examples of this category, many of them seem to be written with the agenda of extolling the virtues and possibilities of close female friendship, perhaps as an alternative to traditional romance novels. Often, I feel that these authors are so anxious to idealize the close bond between two women that they spend less time actually allowing this bond to develop in a convincing way. Their characters remain underdeveloped as well, leaving the reader with an overdone, unconvincing, and ultimately shallow story line. This book is no exception. The writing is not bad, and the historical/cultural context lends some interest to what would otherwise be a truly boring novel. However, the characters were hollow and their friendship, and subsequent estrangement, left me cold. I was so unenamored that I found myself wondering at the authenticity of the historical setting -- how accepted were these ritualized female friendships, and did they really take precedence over the marital bond at times (e.g., a wife sharing a bed with her visiting sworn sister as opposed to her husband)? I don't claim to be an expert on this period of Chinese history, but it seemed inconsistent with the little I know of the inferior status of women at this time and place. Given the author's general agenda, I couldn't help but wonder how many of the contextual details she colored in order to serve her purpose. Perhaps this may be excused by poetic license, but if it had been a better book, I would probably not be engaging in this cynical line of thought. The really good historical novels I've read were so convincing that it did not occur to me to question their authenticity. In the title of my review I mentioned two similar novels which, if crossed, would result in this story. Both of those novels fall into the category of overdone, agenda-driven female fiction. Perhaps this comes from an effort to appeal to the middle-aged female audience, who probably represents a large percentage of the contemporary fiction market.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Praj

    On my 13th birthday, I was furiously handed a copy of Amy Vanderbilt's New Complete Book of Etiquette: The Guide to Gracious Living as my desperate cries for Madonna’s Erotica album were sternly dismissed. Phrases of "Learn to behave like a lady" and "Beauty comes from pain", swayed alongside numerous sermons on feminine mannerisms that became a major part of my teenage life. The former was courteously bestowed advising as to how a bra was essentially an undergarment and not a lacy billboard (He On my 13th birthday, I was furiously handed a copy of Amy Vanderbilt's New Complete Book of Etiquette: The Guide to Gracious Living as my desperate cries for Madonna’s Erotica album were sternly dismissed. Phrases of "Learn to behave like a lady" and "Beauty comes from pain", swayed alongside numerous sermons on feminine mannerisms that became a major part of my teenage life. The former was courteously bestowed advising as to how a bra was essentially an undergarment and not a lacy billboard (Hey! I say blame Madonna!), likewise when the resonance of my beer burps would put a bull horn to shame. The latter was peculiarly used by a genteel woman who tried waxing my legs for the first time and ended up being kicked out of her chair. I certainly showed her the "beauty of my pain". Over the years, my grandma’s constant remarks(or 'blessings' as she would term it) on how it was important to be a dutiful wife to a husband and bear him a son was spitefully argued by me threatening dire consequences if she did not shut her mouth. Now, when I sometimes think of it, I regret of not giving a chance to understanding her frame of mind or the environment which she was raised in. My grandmother grew up humbly in the 1920s with disciplinary feminine etiquettes given a higher preference over academia, whereas I was nurturing on a steady diet of Beverly Hills 90210 & Co. Our worlds were separated through an entire generation and I could never comprehend her anxiety towards my adulthood. Lisa See speaks of an earlier communal generation our evolved minds scorn or laugh away without giving a chance for a valid rationalization. It was a sisterhood sworn for life where happiness and sadness were shared through a secret language in an era, where ‘fate was predestined’ and ‘golden lilies’ were not flowers but an agonizing ordeal bound by austere customs. Lily who was born in the third year of the Emperor Daoguang’s sovereignty (1823) was the second daughter of a modest farmer.To brighten her prospects of finding a prosperous groom Lily’s first break from tradition came through a her laotong or same old- Snow Flower from Tongkou county. Snow Flower would now be Lily’s soul sister forming an undying bond of sisterhood sharing their life, desolations, joy and pledging loyalty to each other through nu-shu, a clandestine language exclusively learned to share their innermost grievances. From the tender age of seven, both these girls evenly obeyed customary rituals, right from bearing the treacherous process of foot-binding to a dedicated living after their marriages and heartbreaking miscarriages. As observed in the book, the story seems to be an outright semi-autobiographical sketch of Lily Lu. Contrary, this overwhelming portrayal is solely about Snow Flower and her altruistic allegiance to Lily as her laotong. The relation between these two women speaks volumes of a philosophical friendship formed through secret scriptures carved on a fan acting as link in a world where women were not allowed to love but comply with the concept of obligatory love that came with their designated roles of a daughter, wife, mother and finally as the matriarchal head of the family. [image error] Lisa See manages to bring forth various staunch customs that were a stubborn part of a culture centuries ago. The inhumane(as I assert my belief) tradition of foot-binding that required fastening the feet of a young girl into a form of a lotus bud restricting the length to seven centimeters for the reason that the “golden lilies” (feet) were a mark of magnificence and its aptness was a standing for forthcoming prosperities. Debatably, inflexible rituals were a part of any culturally strong society prevailing over hundreds of years proclaiming the belief that women were meant to suffer as they were insignificant individuals to their natal families and at most times seen as a mere vessel to carry a male progeny. Several derogating customs imposed on women throughout centuries like child marriages, foot-binding, insulting display of conforming virginities, dowry regulations and many more have fortunately been banished from the current evolved civilization. The one I am extremely curious about is the Burmese Long Neck Women of the Kayan tribe abiding the tradition of compactly casing a brass coil around their necks to attain 'Giraffe necks' associated with beauty. Although most of them have been banished from the law of the land yet, a few have escaped the judicial eye occurring in many ethnic tribal regions of the global panorama. Female genital mutilation to speak of still thrives in the deep pockets of the African sub-continent whereas female infanticide resulting through pressure of birthing a male heir and concealed dowry deaths still see the daylight in rural Indian landscapes. Let alone vast cases of domestic abuse utilized to confirm the marital dominance. O boy! Before my inner feminist crosses the edge of civility, let me move further with this review. The significant practice of nu shu as a communicative pathway disappeared with future generations and its traces can now only be found in the memories of elderly ladies. Reading this book made stop to reflect on the rearing of my grandmother wrapped up in customary obligations of compact arranged marriages, the responsibility of bearing a son and the preferences given to her several brothers over the girls. I can’t even imagine going beyond her mother’s generation and the suffrage women endured in the name of tradition. Lisa See always manages to hit close to home with all her narrations, fortunately not intimately. The book is an absolute page-turner because it not only restrict you from putting it down but empathize a noble sisterhood defining the loyalty of a selfless love in an era where rigidity of foot-binding swallowed up one’s heart.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Lisa See never disappoints me, and I loved my experience reading "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan". She truly is THE authority on historical fiction set in China. Although this is the book I've heard is the most "famous", I find "Shanghai Girls", "Dreams of Joy", and "Peony In Love" were a bit more to my tastes; I just connected more with those characters than I did with Snow Flower and Lily. That should not deter anyone from reading this novel, however - it is popular for a reason. It is extreme Lisa See never disappoints me, and I loved my experience reading "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan". She truly is THE authority on historical fiction set in China. Although this is the book I've heard is the most "famous", I find "Shanghai Girls", "Dreams of Joy", and "Peony In Love" were a bit more to my tastes; I just connected more with those characters than I did with Snow Flower and Lily. That should not deter anyone from reading this novel, however - it is popular for a reason. It is extremely well-written, touchingly sad, and poignantly beautiful.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sookie

    Over the centuries every culture has its own version of "perfection" and refinement that sets people (women, mostly) apart from their counter parts. Foot binding in China was equated with elitism and gave girls an opportunity to marry a higher class man. The brutality of it was expected in the same way corsets were used in Victorian England to make the waists look tinier. Over the time, the requirements for refinements have changed but haven't completely disappeared. Women to this day are subjec Over the centuries every culture has its own version of "perfection" and refinement that sets people (women, mostly) apart from their counter parts. Foot binding in China was equated with elitism and gave girls an opportunity to marry a higher class man. The brutality of it was expected in the same way corsets were used in Victorian England to make the waists look tinier. Over the time, the requirements for refinements have changed but haven't completely disappeared. Women to this day are subjected to body type slurs when the new norms of perfection aren't met by them. Lily is destined for something out of the ordinary and that happens to be being "old same" with a girl from upper class by the name Snow flower. The similar tempered girls become fast friends the moment they meet and promise to share everything for the rest of their lives. This story is gentle reveal of relationship between two women who met when they were just girls and made a contract to be soul-friends for the rest of their lives. They use "nu shu" to communicate, a language that's exclusively used by women for communications such as these. Lisa See writes an intimate tell-all. Lily's passage to womanhood during the process of foot binding is done with dignity; Lily accepts her fate as a necessity for progression in her life irrespective of her personal feelings about the subject matter. Lily adores Snow Flower from the very beginning though the class difference between the two keep bothering her. In a society where role of a woman was reduced to the one that produced sons and take care of the household, the system of "old-sames" offered companionship and a sisterhood that formed an emotional support system. As a character Lily is flawed; she is selfish, judges her soul sister too harshly and can be overtly acerbic. Narration suffers when Lily's inner monologue becomes a distraction. The plot moves rather quickly in the beginning - their childhood days and enjoys a steady pace through the rest. Its a depressing story but it does warrant at least one honest read. When we were young and doing the things children did, certain body type templates crept into our brains without our knowledge. We linger a moment longer in front of the mirror and make a mental note of statistics made by different body parts. We smoothen our skirts, readjust our dupattas and straighten our pants with our eyes constantly judging.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Every once in a while after finishing a book I am reluctant to pick up another one. I need to spend a few days thinking and picking apart the book processing new things learned, deciding how it fits in with my world view, admiring prose, and analyzing if I really "believe" the story and accept the author's conclusions. This book had all of that. New things: nu shu a secret written language of women a thousand years old. And foot binding, I was horribly fascinated and oddly touched. Picturing mys Every once in a while after finishing a book I am reluctant to pick up another one. I need to spend a few days thinking and picking apart the book processing new things learned, deciding how it fits in with my world view, admiring prose, and analyzing if I really "believe" the story and accept the author's conclusions. This book had all of that. New things: nu shu a secret written language of women a thousand years old. And foot binding, I was horribly fascinated and oddly touched. Picturing myself going through this process with my own 7-year-old. Not a chance!!! World View: Set in the mid-1800's in rural China I was filled with helplessness and horror as I read of among other things arranged marriages, foot binding, death, and abuse. Strangely, I never felt pity. I love a writer that can draw you in to the story so completely that what happens is how life plays out. They write without a plea for sympathy because the point of the novel is not the plot devices or what life was like but the underlying story itself. Prose: Rice-and-Salt Days: what a perfect description of that time in our lives when so many of us are "just" mothers or "just" women. When our days are consumed with the details of running a home. Clean, cook, repeat... And the nu shu itself...a language based on phoenetics to be always read in texture, context and shades of meaning. How relevant this simple lesson in the beginning of the book was to the story that played out. Analyzing: I did believe this story and all of it's layers. I have experienced a little the satisfying, healing and happiness to be found in our relationships with other women. I do believe that we have influence on the circumstances around us, even when we start out holding none of the power. And I believe in love and it's power to shape and direct our lives.

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