Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See was a recommended read by blogging friend Sharon Bonin-Pratt. who reviews it in the post linked here. I found this an informative glimpse of life for a middle class Chinese Girl in the 1840s. It is the story of Lily who is an average girl until it comes time for her foot binding. The diviner called in to determine the appropriate date is dazzled by her feet and brings in a match maker for confirmation. When she agrees her fate is set as perfect feet will allow her to make a match of high standing. This is augmented by the creation of a laotong match (this is a female friend that she keeps for life). Her laotong is Snow Flower and this book is predominantly the tale of their relationship told by an elderly woman reflecting back on the circumstances of her life, the betrayals by her family and her laotong and the life that she was born into.
I found this a fascinating look at life in China at this time. I knew of foot binding for girls but I had absolutely no idea what this involved and that death was not an uncommon outcome. I knew the result was a tiny foot called a lotus and it was sexually desirable. Although this practice started diminishing in the 1870s with a banning edict in 1912 this practice continued into the 1950s. Lisa See successfully put me in the women’s room with the girls as they underwent this procedure. Another scene where See put me there was her description of the long march to escape being caught up in a civil war. Can you imagine being on a long march with feet that were deformed, a quarter the size of normal feet that made any walking difficult. Women of status, prior to this time had been carried everywhere.
Communication between Lisa and Snow flower was via a secret women’s writing, Nu Shu. They did theirs on the folds of a fan that carried all important events in their lives. Their friendship demonstrated both sides of every emotion – love and hate, pride and humility, neglect and attention, self-absorption and devotion, truth and lies. It demonstrated how pride hurts no-one but the wearer of it.
This book made me recall some books I thoroughly enjoyed when I read them in my childhood and youth. Jade Snow Wong’s Fifth Chinese Daughter, Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth and a book that is only a mere flicker of a memory where the daughter due to famine and hard times was sold and transported down the Yellow River. That is far as my memory goes so if this rings any bells for you please let me know.
Would I recommend Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – I definitely would particularly if you enjoy human emotions, history and learning about other cultures.