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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

13202496Overview: In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See takes us on a journey back to a captivating era of Chinese history and delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.
 
In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, an “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. Together they endure the agony of footbinding and reflect upon their arranged marriages, their loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace in their friendship, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their relationship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

My thoughts: I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I couldn’t put it down and kept reading chapter after chapter, staying up until 4 A.M. to finish it. On the other hand, the main character’s actions were disappointing. Most of the younger characters start out as something different; they’re rambunctious, active, and playful, but later they just turn into stereotypical old people, especially Lily, the main character.

The hardships of the girls kept me turning the pages. Some of their problems, such as foot binding, are gruesome. Their flight to avoid war also adds to the tension and page turning aspect of the story. However, Lily can be a pain sometimes. She seems to close herself off from the world and become shallow, sticking to tradition although her laotong, Snow Flower, strives to create her own path within the traditional structure.

Part of me had to put away my 21st century view of women to deal with this story. The two girls couldn’t do much to control their own fates, and historically, that’s the way women were treated. I think Lisa See does a great job with the historical elements and not breaking her character’s point-of-view. However, that’s also the downside of the story. When the character does have a break through, it tends to be small, weak ones as if there’s nothing Lily can do to change the past or take hold of the future. She does do a few things to change and control her children’s future, but it’s as if she gives up on making her life better, just like her mother does when Lily is little. Some of the characters’ development tends to be superficial.

Snow Flower is probably my favorite character because she tends to be a bit more unconventional, and she stands up for herself by forming friendships with other women when her laotong doesn’t treat her kindly.

It’s a good quick light read, and I’d recommend it for people interested in historical Chinese stories.

I borrowed this book from my library.

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