I’ll be perfectly honest. I mostly avoid reading books by Chinese authors if the stories are about life in China. I’m not anti-China; I just feel like the stories always move so slowly. So I wouldn’t have picked up Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See, had it not been recommended by someone whose reading opinions I trust.
Though it wasn’t particularly a page-turner, I enjoyed the book and learned an incredible amount – much of it quite disturbing – about life in 19th and 20th Century China. Particularly life for women.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan takes place in a small village in 19th Century China, and tells the story of two friends – Lily and Snow Flower – and their incredibly difficult lives. They are more than just friends. They are laotong – or “old sames,” committed to each other for their entire lives.
The story is told from the perspective of Lily, now in her 80s. She tells not only the story of their friendship, but the story of the amazingly difficult lives led by the women in China during this time. Girls were literally distained by their parents from birth on. The birth of a girl baby was a grave disappointment to both the mother and the father. The only purpose girls had was to work and take care of the family. Once a girl married, they moved to their husband’s house and took care of his family.
The most interesting – if disturbing – part of the book were the graphic details about foot binding, and the part it played in girls’ lives. It resulted in me looking into the practice in great detail with shear horror. Imagine having your foot broken over and over again, until it is a perfect four inches long. The women literally couldn’t walk.
But the story about the secret language and the writings that only women could understand were beautiful and quite interesting.
The writing is lovely, and it you don’t mind a rather slow read, this novel might be just for you.