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Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (See)

Title: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Adult, historical fiction
Pages: 264
Rating: 4 out of 5
FTC Disclosure: I got this from another book blogger at a book exchange
Challenges: Women Unbound, POC
Summary (from the back of the book): In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, or "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 has written 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 the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. They both endure the agony of footbinding and together reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared lonliness, 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 dep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Review: I loved Shanghai Girls, also by Lisa See, and was really looking forwar to reading another of her novels. And, I had heard a lot of good things about Snow Flower and the Secret Fan around the blogosphere. I was not disappointed and enjoyed this book, but I didn't love it like I had loved Shanghai Girls.

I found the history and the culture of this book fascinating. I didn't know anything about footbinding (I cannot even imagine!), women's chambers (where women hang out together), "old same" and sworn sisters (match makers set you up with friends to support you), or what China was like in the 1800s. See's descriptions of these women's lives were really good; I felt like I could see and smell the houses, feel the fabrics of their clothing, and know what they were going through as they maneuvered their way through their days. The author did a great job at setting the scene, making me care about the characters, and combining history, culture, and literature.

Where I didn't love this book were the details of the plot. I felt as if Lily's life, while not easy, seemed somehow blessed while everyone around her fell to the worst of everything. For example, if most people died at 40, why does Lily live to 80, outliving almost all her relatives? I did find the relationship between Snow Flower and Lily interesting; how two women's lives were so intertwined and reliant on one another. I am not sure what I wanted from the story line that I didn't get, but by the end I wanted someone else to have a decent life.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Loved this story. I read it the year it was released which seems like a long long time ago.

Glad u enjoyed it!

Stephanie said...

I loved this book, as did my bookclub. Some parts were definitely painful to read because of the subject matter.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Bibliophile and Stephanie--As with other "meaty" books, I find I am still thinking about the characters and story line even though I finished the book a couple days ago. I guess that's a good thing!

Col (Col Reads) said...

This has been on my TBR for a while, Helen. It sounds like the history was fascinating. Maybe I'll get to it this year (*sigh*).

Athira said...

You and I got bugged by the same issue - Lily's luck amidst everyone else' doom. Good review. I liked the book, but I wished Lily suffered a little more and the others a little less.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Connolly-Ahern--It's definitely worth a read. See is so good at giving the reader a real sense of what life was like in China!

Aths--That's so funny that we found the same problem with the book!

Anonymous said...

I need to read this book again because it's been awhile. I also didn't know much about the foot-binding either until I had read this book. Shanghai Girls is on my list of books I need to read though!

Helen's Book Blog said...

Bookish--I liked Shanghai Girls much better than this one and I am looking forward to her new one that is due out now (or soon)