Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

When a girl, obey your father; when a wife, obey your husband; when a widow, obey your son.

At the age of seven, Lily has already found her laotong, a person with whom her friendship will last a lifetime. Though they are both born in the year of the horse, at first glance Snow Flower transcends anything and anyone Lily has ever known. The two girls write to each other in nu shu, the secret language of Chinese women, and their bond blossoms – together, they endure the painful practice of foot binding, the trials and tribulations of arranged marriages, and the joys and sorrows of motherhood. At the age of 80, Lily recounts their shared lives, including the tragic incident that may have tore them apart.

Many people praise two elements within Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: foot binding and nu shu. Foot binding disturbs me no matter how many times I read about it. Though it does reveal a lot about women within Chinese society and what they suffered through for status, I still had to take deep breaths and numb my mind with music when I read the scene where Lily and her sisters had their feet bound. Nu shu also adds a cultural component to the context of the story, and from the author’s note in the back of the book I could tell Lisa See researched it extensively.

Because the narrative of the book entails Lily looking back on her entire life, the writing comes across as detached and clinical at times. While Lisa See still incorporates wonderful imagery whenever Lily manages to escape the women’s chamber, her passive perspective provides us with an authentic view of women within China’s social hierarchy. Yes, it really does suck to read about the abuses women suffered at the hands of those they held closest to them. But through Lily’s experience we gain a greater fortitude against such behavior – and we learn that friendship can help us fight it.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan draws almost all of its strength from Lily and Snow Flower’s friendship. If I were to discuss it in a book club setting, foot binding, nu shu, and the role of women in Chinese society would all serve as appetizers. The laotong relationship between Snow Flower and Lily would act as my meal. It encompasses endless emotions and ideas: love, shared sadness, bittersweet humor, longing, and my favorite, redemption. Lily’s character in relation to Snow Flower and the actions they take because of each other amaze me. Within a minute I could relate their bond to affirmative action, the psychological rules of attraction, my own personal friendships, and much more.

Highly recommended for those in search of a quiet, poignant story. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is by no means a thriller, but it is profoundly touching, to say the very least.

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14 Comments

Filed under 4 stars, Book Reviews, Books

14 responses to “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

  1. This one certainly sounds like a book I would enjoy and also something that is a little bit different to what I usually read. Chinese culture fascinates me, and I will be adding this one to my wishlist. Fabulous review and I’m certainly intrigued to what nu shu and foot binding is now!

    • While you can look up more info about nu shu and foot binding, you will really attain a deeper and more personal perspective of them through reading this book. Let me know if you pick it up please! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. I have read this, It is great!
    It is so nice to see a review about it and see someone else’s point of view.
    Great blog, keep it up! :D

  3. I read this for my English class back in Grade 11 and I really enjoyed it! :P

    • It’s wonderful that you got to read this in school, I can definitely see why teachers would put this in their curriculum or in reading lists. Glad to know a fellow fan. Thanks for reading and commenting, too. (:

  4. I saw the film and loved it, but I didn’t realise it was a book too!

    • Intriguing… I actually read reviews of the film and they weren’t so positive – if you loved it perhaps it’s worth watching then! If you liked the movie, I would recommend you try the book too. Thanks for reading and commenting, as always.

  5. This is actually one of my favorite books. Although I’ve only read it through once, I can vividly remember passages and lines as though I had just read them, but most importantly the emotion. I just have to pick it up again, and the feelings will come flooding back, sending me to a dark corner with a candle so I can read and cry. (Yes, I read this book in candlelight. It made me feel like I was breaking a rule or something.) So, I suggest that you read another book by Lisa See, called Peony In Love. It’s not quite the same feel as SFATSF, and has, (if it’s possible) more culture than SFATSF. I highly reccomend Peony In Love as an excellent followup to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

    • Julie, it’s fascinating and admirable that you read this book in candlelight. For some reason doing that makes me feel like it would only enhance your reading experience with it. Thank you for the recommendation – I was wondering which Lisa See book I should pick up next, and now Peony In Love is definitely a contender!

  6. Jessica

    I read this as required reading for my english class during the 10th grade. It really opened up my eyes to an entirely different world and time period. I knew about footbinding before, but not about the pain, the struggles, and the pressure.

    • I’m glad you got to read it for class – it opened my eyes as well. I think on a basic level almost anyone can assume that footbinding is painful in the physical sense, but it takes a book like this one to dig deeper into its societal and psychological implications. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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