Title: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Historical Fiction
Synopsis: In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “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’s painted 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 fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, 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 deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart. (Goodreads)
The writing of this book was really beautiful to me, as See was able to convey the tranquil countryside, the careful power balance in the household, the beauty of their clothing, the pain of foot-binding, and the richness of their festivals and celebrations. Most of all, it really let me connect with the emotions of Lily, because she does go through a lot of changes. The outside world and her circumstances change, making her have to adapt as well. I think this book was lacking for me in the pacing, because it did move slow at certain parts.
Like I said, See’s writing style really made the book for me. It flows really well, and she really painted vivid pictures in my mind. It’s a culture and history that I’m not very familiar with, so everything was new and interesting to me. The festivals and celebrations were my favourite part, as significant parts were explained to make a richer reading experience. I also loved seeing the relationships between Lily, Snow Flower, and her family. From things like duty to her family, the love of her parents (with them trying a balance between love and discipline), and her relationship to her sisters, cousin, and her “old same.”
Along with the beauty, there was also a lot of pain in this book. The practice of foot-binding, the girls doing what was expected of them or being seen as worth less than a son, and how they were being treated by people like their mothers-in-law. It was really painful to read sometimes, and realise that some of these things may have happened to girls so many years ago. Beyond the story of Lily and Snow Flower, this was also the story of their country around them.
As for the drawbacks of this book, the pacing at some parts seemed off. It would move slowly, and I could understand that. It did speed up near the end, so much that it felt a little abrupt. Aside from that, I don’t have that many complaints about the book. The nature of the misunderstanding threw me, mainly because I thought the relationship between these two characters was too strong for something like that to happen.
Overall: This book was beautifully-written, and See is able to paint such amazing pictures of the rich and vibrant culture around the characters. There’s also a lot of pain in there, so prepare to have your heart kicked around. Still, a great story with really interesting history as a backdrop.