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The Binding Chair or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society

3.47  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,411 Ratings  ·  165 Reviews
In poised and elegant prose, Kathryn Harrison weaves in The Binding Chair; or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society a stunning story of women, travel, and flight; of love, revenge, and fear; of the search for home and the need to escape it. Set in alluring Shanghai at the turn of the century, The Binding Chair intertwines the destinies of a Chinese woman determined t ...more
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published (first published May 31st 1997)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,647)
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Petra X
The hook was the title - perhaps a glimpse into the secret world of Chinese culture in times not too long gone by. The protagonist with her tiny feet and huge greed was quite a fascinating character, but when the focus changed to her extremely boring niece going to school it seemed the author had run out of steam and the book died for me. I tried several times to get back into it, but in the end, despite the pretty cover looking at me from the bedside table, gave it up.
Nov 27, 2010 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book again the other day, and finished it for the second time rather quickly. I had bought the book originally because of my interest in Chinese foot-binding practices, but this is not really a book about foot-binding at all, other than the fact that the main character, May, has bound feet.

Kathryn Harrison's novel winds together so many stories and back stories, that if she were a lesser writer, you would leave this book behind confused. But the characters are so real and vivid
Jul 13, 2009 Erica rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was going to teach me about what it was like for girls in China who used to bind their feet for beauty. I thought it would explain how this concept came into being, and why it was carried on for generations, and what brought about it's eventual decline. I thought I'd get an insight into one of the oldest countries in the world. Boy was I wrong. I should have suspected that an author named 'Kathryn Harrison' might not be of Chinese decent, but I foolishly gave her the benefit ...more
May 31, 2010 Jayne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: old-favorites, novel
Oh, I loved this book! A fascinating, and often disturbing tale of a young Chinese girl who unwillingly has her whole life geared towards marriage, which ultimately results in soul crushing disappointment. After many years of having her life controlled by others, she decides to take her life into her own hands, and abruptly turns the steering wheel in a whole new direction. This deciscion ultimately leads to finding love, kindness and acceptance, more crushing losses and heart-break. A fascinati ...more
Oct 08, 2011 Nelson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful narrative about broken people (are there any other kind the novel seems to ask?): May's feet, Arthur's tinnitus, Dolly's madness, Eleanor's crippling lisp, the list goes on and on. It's almost as if the novel is a book-length illustration of Hemingway's nostrum "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places." Harrison is a lovely novelist, with style and confidence to burn. The narrative is told in two alternating sequences, roughly (past and present), ...more
This book had been sitting on my bookshelf for at least 10 years. I can't remember why I bought it in the first place, or why I never picked it up until now.

It's not at all what I expected it to be from the title. Much less an exploration of footbinding than say, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I read recently. Footbinding is really just a metaphor the author uses as a device to delve into all the ways women are controlled through various societal, mental and physical restraints.

I'm gues
A) To Jeremy J. Green (August, '09, comment):

Jeremy -

Before I give you my gut reaction, let me ask what you were thinking when you wrote this.

There. Now I've asked.

Let's see: break a baby girl's feet in half, bind them to fester and ooze and cripple her for the rest of her life so that she is incapable of ever again running or dancing or even walking properly, and condemn her to excruciating pain until she dies....

This is a *style* - like short hair or long skirts or
Jul 06, 2011 JackieB rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general
This didn't quite work for me. The author seemed to be exploring the restricted lives open to women in various cultures in the early part of the 20th century. However, she was trying too hard for my taste. There was no contrast. Even the youngest women in the book seemed to be unhappy and trapped. I think a few counter examples would have kept my interest and made me think more about her theme. She also relied on sex or sexual experiences too much to try to make her points. It all got a bit pred ...more
Feb 14, 2010 Cindy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a fascinating book! I could not put it down even though many, many parts were very disturbing and tragic. The title is also misleading. Foot binding is included but it is not the main theme of the book. The story takes place mostly in Shanghai where we follow the lives of Alice who is Caucasian and is focused on the future and her Aunt Mae who is a footbound Chinese courtesan who is determined to forget her past. This is one book i will never forget. Very haunting. I highly recommend it.
Kathy Ding
May 25, 2016 Kathy Ding rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Oh, goodness, another seemingly Chinese novel with supposedly historic details written by a white woman...
Here's my breakdown of why this book should not be read or bought:

First off, I can understand if a Chinese woman wrote about the life of a certain class of girls set in Shanghai in the 1920's - 1950's. Whenever Westerners write about foot binding, they seem to perpetually assume that it was for all girls in the time period. That simply isn't true at all. Also, not all men were even into that
Sep 21, 2015 Babs rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 1-star, read-2004
I really struggled to read this book and didn't enjoy the experience. I love reading books about or set in China, whether factual or fictional, so I think this book came as a double disappointment.

Harrison has created a book which is just overflowing with characters. The main characters number 16 (May, her father, mother & grandmother, nieces Alice and Cecliy, her husband Arthur, his sister Dolly and her husband Dick, the childrens' governesses Miss Waters and Miss Clusburton, not to mention
I enjoyed this book, and in some respects better than say Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The foot binding process was just as vivid but it delved into more of how it effected women. Plus, being in Shanghai right now, it was interesting to picture this city at the turn of the 20th century.

My only "complaint" was that the main character was Chinese and this was written by a British caucasian. If you've read any "real" chinese stories, I just felt that May would never had made that decision at the
Mar 02, 2013 Louise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vonna Marcus
Her new novel, 1CThe Binding Chair, 1D allows Harrison to add to her repertoire of physical cruelty the (discontinued) upper-class Chinese ritual of binding women 19s feet. Set in Shanghai and France, 1CThe Binding Chair 1D tells the intertwined stories of two women: May, the daughter in a well-to-do Chinese family growing up in the last decades of the 19th century, and Alice, an English girl born in the first decade of the 20th. When May is 5 years old, her grandmother 1Csits her on a red chair ...more
Tracy Terry
Oct 22, 2014 Tracy Terry rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Last read a number of years ago I decided to re-read this in order to decide whether or not I wanted to keep it/ pass it on/donate it to a charity shop.

Sadly not a novel I enjoyed second time around. I don't know whether my tastes have changed since I last read it or that at the time we had plenty of shelf space and I wasn't so strict with myself as to only keep books I knew I'd re-read at some point in time.

Whilst at heart a story of China The Binding Chair isn't written by a Chinese author. No
Aug 24, 2009 Christine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting parallel between "old" China and "new" China. The characters struggle with who they are and their "station" in life. The book jumps between stories and throughout the timeline. The writing was interesting, but just a little too much sexual content for my taste. The Binding Chair didn't add much to my knowledge of this time period. The ending of the book left me feeling empty and sort of wishing I'd never read the book at all.
Kassidy harris
While this could have been really interesting because of the cultural setting of the story, the writing seemed to jump from timeframe to timeframe without any good transition. It totally distracted me from the characters, all of whom I felt I knew only a little bit better by the end than I did at the beginning. That said, it was good enough that I actually made it to the end, but that's not saying much.
Aug 29, 2015 Siv30 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
במקום שתהיה בו איזו אמירה פמניסטית, במקום לנצל את הממונטום ולתת לקוראת איזה משהו מתחושת העוצמה של הנשים היפניות (על כל המורכבות שלה), קרתין הריסון הפכה את זה לרומן זול, בלי שום אמירה לא חברתית ובטח ובטח שלא נשית.

אני התאכזבתי קשות ! אני מתעבת סופרות שמתיימרות להגיד איזה אמירה שבסוף יוצאת בקול ציוץ עלוב. לא כיסא הקשירה ולא בטיח המטפורה נשארת חלולה כמו כל הספר הזה.
I was excited to read it, but quickly put it down with all the disgusting things that happened. I'm not talking about foot-binding, either, I'm talking about things like a man liking to insert his wife's foot into his anus. Despite my interest in China and some of its customs, this was not something I wanted to read.
M.L. Brennan
Glorious, glorious prose. But the ending felt a little incomplete -- given how important Suzanna turned out to be, I feel like more could've been done to establish her, and also establish the dynamics of the household at Nice. Cecily was always a secondary character, but I also felt like some of her arc was ultimately missing. And Alice's romance, and May's objection to it, felt incomplete. So much was done with May, but that final decision of "why then?" and the decision to bring Suzanna with h ...more
Mar 05, 2010 Mimi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I love reading novels about Asian culture and I have read all of Amy Tan's books as well as such masterpieces as "Memoirs of a Geisha". This book,while seemingly well-written and promising at its onset, left me flat (and slightly confused and depressed) at the end. I found that while the general ideas of family relationships and Chinese cultures explored in this tale were somewhat akin to those topics explored by Amy Tan (one of my favorite authors), the characterization and story line lacked Am ...more
Nov 18, 2012 Louise rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Story Description:

HarperCollins|June 14, 2001|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-06-093442-2

In poised and elegant prose, Kathryn Harrison weaves a stunning story of women, travel, and flight; of love, revenge, and fear; of the search for home and the need to escape it. Set in alluring Shanghai at the turn of the century, The Binding Chair intertwines the destinies of a Chinese woman determined to forget her past and a Western girl focused on the promises of the future.

My Review:

After having read Snowf
Jul 13, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this a fascinating read. I knew about foot binding but that was about it. The story is moving and the characters very real. i thought May, the heroine was such a strong, not always likable character and despite her mixed start in life made a determined decision not to be a push over. Her husband Arthur was lucky to have a wonderfully patient brother in law who forgives his inept business sense and suffers his benevolent charity activities.

Alice, May's niece also a strong and not always a
Feb 14, 2013 Histteach24 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Slow to start, this book ended up not as disappointing as I originally thought it would be. I was so bored in the beginning I was losing the connection between May, Alice and what seemed to be a random character named Suzanne.
As the book progressed, I began to see the comparison of the three women against each other. Which one was the strongest? In their portrayal of strength were they instead really weak?
One may look at May as a self-centered, mean spirited woman. Yet was this just an act for
The book was a little confusing in my opinion as it jumped between characters and different times. I skipped a lot of parts because they were boring or just confusing, something that I almost never do otherwise.

The story itself was very sad, I saw very little happiness or hope in it (though I loved the part with the horses, won't say anything more than that). The few insights into the act of foot binding was very horrifying as well as interesting. I think I would have liked the story more if it
The Binding Chair starts out as a cracking historical novel - a brave and bold heroine, a lovingly detailed setting. Then halfway through the focus dissipates. We spend too much time with the protagonist's niece, whose only function is to serve as a doppelganger for her aunt. We meet a rag bag cast of other characters who seem to have wandered in from another novel altogether. The protagonist herself loses all her earlier force and seems to be hanging around the novel for the finale, which doesn ...more
Sep 01, 2014 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was picked up because of the title but I had a hard time with this one, I never knew how Chinese women's feet were bond and now it make sense how they walk any other way would be took painful. Her venture to other countries gave some interest but in the end I was disappointed.
Antoinette Chastagner
This was an fascinating book in particular because it got me interested in researching more about the practice of foot-binding and chinese culture in general. The more explicit passages were obviously disturbing to read. I think it's a book you will either love or hate.
May 05, 2015 Joan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was engaging from the first page. An amazing life journey of a foot bound women who from the very first wrapping has hated the life her feet gave her. She becomes her own person and struggles to live with what she has done and become. A very interesting and moving book.
Katie Wheeler
Reading this whole traveling in China was really eye opening. There is such a rich history in every street of Shanghai, and this book explores lots of dark corners. Dark is a good descriptive word for this book; if you like happy endings... Well this is not for you.
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Kathryn Harrison is the author of the novels Envy, The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Poison, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water.

She has also written memoirs, The Kiss and The Mother Knot, a travel memoir, The Road To Santiago, a biography, Saint Therese Of Lisieux, and a collection of personal essays, Seeking Rapture.

Ms. Harrison is a frequent reviewer for The New York Times Book Review; her essay
More about Kathryn Harrison...

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