Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
by Lisa See

Two women, one rich and one poor, are bound together for life when they become laotongs, a committed lifelong friendship unlike anything we have in the western world. Despite marriages, deaths, motherhood, sickness, changes in wealth, etc. Lily and Snow Flower’s lives are forever intertwined.

Set in 19th century China, the story unfolds in a society that is so far removed from our own, it’s difficult to relate or understand what they’re going through. We’re taught from a young age to pursue the things we love. We have an undeniable freedom in America that many women will never know. Even if we feel pressure from society to live our lives a certain way (aka the Midwestern ideal of settling down and having babies) we still get to decide if that’s what we want to do. Because of this, it was hard for me to connect with women who have no options. They blindly follow the choices their families make for them, because there is no other option. This makes me incredibly grateful for the life I have.

The book is rich with cultural details. I loved learning more about Chinese traditions, even if I don’t agree with them. I felt like I was completely immersed in another world. What I lacked in connection with the characters, I made up for in fascination with another time and place.

(An example of foot binding)

One element including in this story is the ancient practice of foot binding. It’s beyond disturbing to realize what they did to young girls’ feet to make them “beautiful.” I did some research on it after finishing the book and was appalled to see how debilitating the practice really was. Girls died from it and yet it was still considered an honor.


The thing that made me like, but not love this one was the rift between Lily and Snow Flower. I just didn’t understand how it came about. I know Lily didn’t approve of a lot of things in Snow Flowers life (her husband, his work, their relationship, etc.), but to break off the friendship and humiliate her laotong in public just seemed so cruel to me. Her pride never allowed her to take back her words until it was too late. I admired Lily’s strength when disease was destroying their village, but I couldn’t respect her after what she did to her friend.


I’m really looking forward to reading more from this author. This wasn’t a book I’d revisit, but I really liked the style of writing and the historical elements. It’s good for me to read books set outside of western culture. Sometimes I find myself in a rut, reading only European or American titles and mixing in one like this is a bracing reminder of the diversity our world holds.

For another view visit Giraffe Days.

Photo from here.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I so loved this book, but that photo of foot binding is just so awful...ugh

Jillian said...

I enjoyed this book as well. I really liked Lisa See's story telling style. It reminds me a lot of Amy Tan, and I do like her stuff as well.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I definitely need to read Shanghai Girls and this one, because Lisa See is going to be our guest author for our Adult Literacy League event in the spring! I'm so excited. That foot binding is awful...

Kristi said...

I won a giveaway with this book a few months ago, and I'm eager to get to it. I too am guilty of not really reading outside of American or European books. When I do venture out, I usually enjoy it so I'm not sure why I don't. It's probably laziness on my part. I'm glad you enjoyed this one. Foot binding is horrible! That picture makes my stomach turn.

Anonymous said...

I finished this book 2 weeks ago and loved it. This is also a world that is completely unfamiliar to me and yet I thought it was described so well I could precisely picture the setting. It must have involved an incredible amount of research. My TBR list is now full of Lisa See, Amy Tan, and other similar authors. Can't wait!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Diane - I know, that one is tame compared to most of the ones I saw. Do NOT google foot binding!

Jillian - It reminded me of Tan as well.

Sandy - That's awesome, you'll have to let me know how it goes. I love meeting authors in real life.

Kristi - I'm going to work at it, I need to venture out of my reading comfort zone more.

Anon - I read an interview with the author where she talked about her research. She actually traveled to some of the small villages in China and talked with the women there.

BookQuoter said...

I also gave this one 4/5 when I read it last year exactly because I learned so much from it. And yes I also did google foot binding and was horrified as well. That people found that appealing at all is proof how cultures/people or times/eras are so different.

I Read Shanghai Girls too. I gave it 3/5, but I know a lot of people love that one. I found it a bit whiny.

Mumsy said...

I have to confess, I found this novel somewhat boring. The foot binding thing was very disturbing, though; and what I found most troubling was the concept of mothers deliberately crippling their free-running daughters. The idea of taking a perfect child's foot and turning it into this gruesome, rotting, broken stub...and that a mother could do this to the child she sheltered in her womb...too painful to contemplate. The unimaginably cruel things that culture can warp us into doing...very troubling.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

BookQuoter - I'm curious about her other work, but I'm not sure I love it.

Mumsy - It really is so wrong. I think learning about the cultural details kept me from being bored, but it is slow.

LindyLouMac said...

I have read this and Peony in Love by the same author. It is fascinating to read about cultures that are so different from ours and I agree good for us as well. Like you I will definitely be reading more by this author if I get the opportunity to do so.

Jenners said...

I really liked this book for many of the same reasons you did … the historical details and a glimpse into a secret world I knew nothing about. And I Googled footbinding after reading this book and saw things I wanted to forget … and then you included that photo!! Argh! I'm traumautized again!

Jeanne said...

What Mumsy said. Although I think we're still blind to the psychological ways we sometimes bind girls in our culture.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

LindyLouMac - I'll have to check that one out too.

Jenners - It really is awful to look at, but I didn't truly understand what it was before I googled it and I didn't want others to have to look it up to understand.

Jeanne - That's true, I'm sure at the time they didn't think they were doing anything wrong.

Captain Nick Sparrow said...

I just tried to get my book club to read this, but someone had already read it. I definitely want to read it before I see the movie.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Captain - I haven't read the movie yet, but I heard they mixed a modern story in there as well, so I'm a little wary of it.