Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Lisa See (Adult Fiction)
Lily Yi was born on the fifth day of the sixth month of the third year of Emperor Daoguang’s reign. Her matchmaker took one look at her and knew she was special. In fact, Lily was so special that she was given a laotong, an “old same”, instead of the traditional sworn sisters that most girls receive. A laotong relationship in Chinese culture is between two girls from different villages who are eternally bound to be kindred sisters and devoted companions. At the age of seven, Lily is matched with a girl from the highly regarded Lu clan. Her name is Snow Flower. For over twenty years, their friendship endures arranged marriages, childbearing, disease, and death. Throughout these events, the two write to one another in a secret women’s language—nu shu—on the folds of a fan. One day, Lily receives a message from Snow Flower that threatens to tear apart their bond, although it is said that not even death itself can sever a laotong.
See not only gives us an extraordinary novel, but also an informative and unforgettable glimpse into Chinese culture and the lives of women in the early part of the 19th century. We read how women are kept separated and isolated from outside life. Women hidden away within the walls of their upstairs women’s chambers where they spend their days cooking, sewing, and praying for sons—their only measure of worth. See also describes the unimaginably cruel and painful practice of footbinding. This tradition begins with girls at age six and See’s description of the binding process is unmerciful in its details. The suffering these young girls endure is truly horrific and beyond human comprehension and through the author’s masterful storytelling, we find ourselves experiencing their pain and agony alongside them. (Thankfully, this practice was outlawed in 1912.)
See gives her readers a beautifully told story of devotion, sacrifice, regret, love, and forgiveness. Lily and Snow Flower are strong, intelligent, and fearless women willing to break long-honored cultural barriers in order to remain together. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a mesmerizing and heartbreaking novel whose story unfolds as effortlessly as the fan that Lily and Snow Flower share.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com