Summary of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - from the book jacket:
Lily is haunted by memories – of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness.
In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu ("women's writing"). Some girls were paired with laotongs, "old sames," in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.
With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become "old sames" at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, 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 lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a brilliantly realistic journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. With the period detail and deep resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.
My review of the book:
Asian culture, both past and present, fascinates me to no end. This book held the same mystique that book such as Memoirs of a Geisha (Robert Golden) and The Hundred Secret Senses (Amy Tan) have provided for me in the past. Books such as these almost seem to open the door to another universe, one in which everything centers on bizarre tradition and duty. The very idea of foot binding in itself is both gruesome and at the same time, extremely fascinating to me.
A pivotal point in Lily’s life is when her feet are bound and her entire life changes… for the better. She is able to land an incredible match with her future husband; whose family is of much higher wealth and status than her own. She is able to do all of this mostly because of her perfectly bound “lily pad” feet. She does; however, endure excruciating pain, including being forced to walk on her tightly wrapped feet until her bones slowly break in her feet. Her younger sister also undergoes this process at the same time, and dies in the process due to complications and infection.
Above: A real example of "bound" feet
On the other hand, Lily’s “old same”, Snow Flower, who is graceful, beautiful, and of (seemingly) good status, sees her future take a turn for the worse as her family deteriorates. While Lily sees herself wed to someone far above her family’s status, she finds that she owes much to Snow Flower and the woman’s education that she has provided, and she is sad to see her "old same" wed to a lowly butcher (which in that region was considered a very low status due to it being an “unclean” practice).
Well, before I start summarizing the entire book (or giving anything away for those who may pick up the book) I will just say that I, personally, very much enjoyed this book, though I don’t know if I would recommend it to everyone. If you are interested in Asian culture (including foot binding and women’s practices), then I would highly recommend this book. However, I did find myself becoming bored with some parts of the book, and irritated with others. I guess my problem is I have trouble with the horrible way that women were treated, and phrases such as… “Nothing is as evil as a woman’s heart” and in another part, when a miscarriage occurs, they imply that hopefully it was a girl that would not bring trouble into the world. That being said, that isn’t the book’s fault, because sadly, it’s most likely very close to the truth!
If you pick up Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I hope that you enjoy it, and let me know what you think!
To read more about Nu Shu - the secret language this book centers around, please click here.
Also, please let me know if my book reviews would interest you in the future… I read a lot, and love talking about what I read, but want to know what you guys think as well!