Saturday, July 25, 2009

Book Review : Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Pub. Date: February 2006
ISBN-13: 9780812968064
Sales Rank: 878
Pages: 288

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Lily and her friend Snow Flower are a laotong pair, related more closely than husband and wife. Lily's Aunt describes a laotong match this way: "'A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose -- to have sons.'"

The two girls are also bound together by experiencing the painful process of foot binding at the same time, and by letters to one another written on fans with Nü Shu, a secret phonetic form of 'women's writing.' In addition to the language itself, the young women learn Nü Shu songs and stories.

Although both friends are born under the sign of the horse, they are quite different. Lily is practical, her feet firmly set on the ground, while Snow Flower is a flying horse that attempts to fly over the constrictions of women's lives in the 19th century in order to be free. Their lives differ as well. Although Lily comes from a family of relatively low station, her beautiful feet play a role in her marriage into the most powerful family in the region. Lily ends up as Lady Lu, the region's most influential woman. Snow Flower is not so fortunate. She marries a butcher, culturally considered the lower of professions, and has a miserable life filled with children dying and beatings at the hand of her husband.

The novel depicts human suffering in many ways: the physical and psychological pain of foot binding; the suffering of women of the time, who were treated as property; the terrible trek up the mountains to escape from the horrors of the Taiping Revolution; the painful return back down the mountain trail with dead bodies everywhere. Some estimate that the number of people killed during the Revolution was approximately 20 million.

The detailed treatment of the suffering which Lily and Snow Flower experience in their laotong relationship is a major aspect of the book. Lily’s need for love and her inability to forgive what she considers to be acts of betrayal cause her to inflict harm on many people, Snow Flower most of all. Believing that Snow Flower has not been true to her, Lily betrays her by sharing all her private secrets to a group of women, virtually destroying Snow Flower's reputation. When Snow Flower is dying, Lily is called to her bedside and tends to her until the end.

As the book returns to the present (1903), Lily is an 80 year old woman who has lived 40 years after her friend's death. Lily’s final words indicate that her love for Snow Flower remains: “But if the dead continue to have the needs and desires of the living, then I’m reaching out to Snow Flower and the others who witnessed it all. Please hear my words. Please forgive me.”

Through this novel, I have learnt more about the lives of the Chinese women in the 19th century, their culture, tradition and the hardships they encounter on the journey of life. The tales of their amity are heart-warming, but sad and sorrowful sometimes. Lily and Snow Flower have gone through much together, as they evolve physically and mentally from innocent little girls into beautiful young ladies, tasting all kinds of 'flavours' of life --- happiness, love, joy and sorrow. This is a well- written, fascinating historical fiction. I must say that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is certainly one of the best books I've ever read.

My rating : 10/10


Lisa See, the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, who is so kind to send me an autographed copy of the book. I also want to thank her for writing such a beautiful story that keeps my eyes permanently fixed on the pages from the beginning until the end.

Thank you, Lisa!

Lisa's other books:

On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese American Family. St. Martins Press, 1995.
Flower Net. HarperCollins, 1997.
The Interior. HarperCollins, 1999.
Dragon Bones. Random House, Inc., 2003.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Random House, Inc., 2005.
Peony in Love. Random House, Inc., 2007.
Shanghai Girls. Random House, Inc., 2009.
Chinatown (guidebook), Angels Walk LA, 2003.


R.C. said...

Oh, sounds like such a beautiful book!

Aik said...

Yes, it's really good. I'm loving it!

✖Kenny Ding✖™ said...

Nice!!! By the way, what is the meaning of "lao tong", is it come from chinese words?

Aik said...

It means 老同 or old same. It's some sort like sworn sisters, but the difference is 'lao tongs' are friends for life. =)

secret character said...

lol...i still hav no time to c it...juz leave comment for fun^^... but...u really hav many times to do ur revision still reading books...not like 1 subject oso nt yet finish...T_T