Jamie's Reviews > Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
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's review
Aug 29, 2011

really liked it
Read in August, 2011

What can I say? I love Amy Tan and have read every book she's written, so how could I pass up something that seemed so like her, but like her early books, with beautiful customs and simplistic stories and careful language? While See's novel lacks a lot of Tan's customary supernaturalism, it still boasted of lady's chambers, wise sages and ritualistic types of disfigurement (both mental and physical). Characters with adjective-noun names steal your heart while wearing silken tunics and you spend the whole time reading the story realizing you can actually HEAR the quiet, Chinese-style flute and smell the incense, see the light through their lattice work windows and taste the scallions in their congee.

The book documents a laotong relationship between Snow Flower and Lily, two seven year-olds who promise to be "old sames" forever just one year after they begin the horrifying process of having their feet bound, turning them from "big footed" girls and ensuring their "golden lilies", thus making them marriageable in 19th century China. While both girls love one another unconditionally, Lily is born to a farmer, but the high arch of her foot ensures her move to a higher class once married, while her laotong, Snow Flower, comes from a jitzu scholar and a big beautiful home. It's clear Lily has much to learn from Snow Flower, including the secret women's language of Nu Shu, but it's always a bit of a mystery what Snow Flower will get from Lily aside from friendship.

As the girls grow and move through girlhood to adulthood, Snow Flower's secret is revealed, and Lily is forced to find what sort of a woman she is and how deeply devoted she can be or should be.

Truly an "epic" novel, this book follows both families for more than 80 years and puts all sorts of theories and notions regarding friendship and love under scrutiny. Is love learned, just like reading, or is love forced, like binding and breaking the delicate bones in the foot? Either way, all the beautiful historical aspects of this novel perfectly coincide with the agonizing internal struggles the characters must work through. From the people, the setting to the customs, every vantage of this book was more beautiful than the last and it was a joy to read, even when it felt grueling to take.
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