11 June 2015

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Publication: 2005

# of Pages: 253

Source: 2nd & Charles--Second hand book store

Favorite Quotes:

  • "If a daughter doesn't marry out, she's not valuable, if fire doesn't raze the mountain, the land will not be fertile."
  • "Even if we are poor, even if we are young, even if we have children, it is better to dies, remain true to our husbands, and keep our virtue than to bring shame on their memories."

Goodreads Blurb/Summary: "In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, or "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 has written 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 the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. They both endure the agony of footbinding and together 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.


My Thoughts/Review:

It is not every day that we are given the opportunity to learn about a culture outside of our own. With her publication of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See was able to create an intriguing perspective of rural China. One of the most fascinating aspects associated with the novel, at least for me, was the infamous practice of footbinding. If you are unaware of the practice, footbinding was a tradition that involved the shrinking of the size of a woman's foot. Some even managed to shrink their feet to a mere size of three inches representing grace, class, and beauty (If you are interested in the history of footbinding check out this site: NPR: Painful Memories of Footbinding). While reading the process of footbinding proved to be cringe worthy, it really brought forward an understanding of the term "beauty."

See clearly and beautifully establishes the cultural differences aligned with what we deem as beautiful. Every town, city, state, and nation has it's own expectations and definition for a woman's beauty. Nevertheless, she reminds her readers that in the end all women, regardless of expectation of physical beauty, long for "love, friendship, happiness, tranquility, and to be heard." It is in her characters Lily and Snow Flower that we see the fight and desire for these things.

In a world built upon structure, rules of womanhood, value (where a woman is not valuable unless she marries out and bears a son), and social class, the characters of this novel seek redemption for their wrongs committed to each other and their error in being born a woman. Whether they find that redemption is left up to the discretion of the reader.

The only aspect I found difficult to grasp, understand, and respect was the concept of  "mother-love." The lack of love and kindness to daughters and the volatile relationship from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law was heartbreaking. Coming from a place of personal bias in which I have come from a loving household made it extremely difficult to understand that this behavior was considered fair, true, and beneficial. It was deemed necessary to mold successful, obedient wives. Nevertheless, See ultimately exposed me to a world once hidden from my cultural experiences. Beauty is no longer just a word, but a perspective in which I will continue to relish and grow.

Rating: 4/5