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Lisa See – Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

February 7, 2008

17. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (2005)

Read by Janet Song
Length: 11h 08m (272 pages)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 03 February 2008
Finished: 07 February 2008

Summary: This book lets us in to the inner world of women’s lives and affairs in nineteenth century China, when having perfectly bound, tiny feet was the highest status symbol a woman could have, and where her only duties were to obey her parents, husband, and in-laws, and to produce healthy sons. In this world where men and women are kept largely separate, women must rely on each other for love and true emotional support. Lily and Snow Flower are contracted to become laotongs, “old sames” when they are seven years old, and so begins a relationship with a deeper impact than any marriage could have. Although their lives take them in different directions, they remain in contact via nu shu, the secret writing of women, until a terrible misunderstanding threatens to tear them apart for good.

Review: This book does an excellent job of bringing the daily lives of Chinese women of that period to life, of explaining both the practice and rationale behind a variety of traditional practices (foot-binding is the major one that gets noted, although the book touches on customs surrounding birth, marriage, death, festivals, family, folklore, food, religious observances, etc., almost as deeply). These rich historical details are spun together in service of the story, and create a vivid impression of daily life in rural pre-Western-contact China. The prose is clean, and the voice of Lily as narrator is strong and consistent. However, the story itself fell a little short of what I’d hoped… by the time the major conflict came around, I didn’t particularly like either of the two main characters – they both annoyed me, Lily for being too cold, and Snow Flower for being too passive and whiny. I realize that part of the point was to demonstrate the limited world through which these women moved, but that constriction also seemed to make the story seem small and somewhat petty, even though it stretched over the span of a life. Overall, while I found this book to be interesting and compelling listening, and while it absolutely presented a brightly vivid historical snapshot, I guess I prefer my novels to have a slightly broader scope. This was a worthwhile read, but not something that’s destined to become a favorite. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Definitely would be worth reading by people who enjoy “women in history” books like The Red Tent, and historical fiction that focuses on daily life instead of big events.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2009 7:53 am

    I have my eye on that book already. Must be really interesting

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  1. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See | Books of Mee

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