Erin's Reviews > Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
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's review
Oct 20, 08

uuughughghghghg ugh ugh ugh.

i can't read about foot binding anymore. it literally makes me sick to my stomach. this is mostly due to a 15 minute video displayed twice every hour in a small missionary museum in new mexico.

the sole purpose of this museum, for reasons i still can't
explain, was to display unusual world practices encountered by missionaries around the globe, throughout history. my parents, wishing to enliven and culture my young and spongelike brain, (and also having nothing else to entertain me with as the entire state of new mexico is boring as all get out to drive through and so damn hot you can't even sit on the grass at the rest stops) set me free in this twisted little house for 2 hours when i was eight.

it was full of fun things, like pictures of kayan woman proudly displaying their neck rings, and the perfume pouches french royalty wore to ward off fleas and lice, and examples of poisoned darts that papa new guinea tribes used to hunt down white explorers in the 1700's... yay!

And it also had this little dark room, with cute little chairs just my size, and teensy little brocade shoes just outside the entrance. and everybody loves teensy shoes, people. do you blame me for being fascinated?

the guy in the video, however, scary. he was fat, balding, and holding a little model of a foot's skeleton just the size of my own. he used this to show how a woman's foot would be wrapped in anceint china, to press the ball of the foot towards the heel. and then he actually pressed. slowly. until the bones snapped and the ball and heel were touching.

and then someone in the production process must have decided this wasn't realistic enough, so they had this cute little asian-girl actress come out and demonstrate, through blurry lens shots and muted screams, what this procedure might have felt like. when they found me later i was hypnotized, sitting with my feet tucked under my butt clutching the toes of my tennis shoes.

now, like many of you goodreads devotees, i had an overactive imagination as a child. i spent a good deal of time after that experience imaging what i would do if i grew up in that time period. you know, how i would escape. because of course i had to escape. can you imagine what that would feel like? but people would find me! and hold me down! or the emperor would catch me and chop off my head! there was no escape! lots of girls would have to do it! or did it! augh! it must have been HORRIBLE for them! HORRIBLE! AUGHHH!

...consequently, i decided that to make myself feel better about the 50 majillion little asian girls a long time ago, i would just pretend that foot binding never happened. just, like, stick to american girl novels and the occasional "dear america" journal (medieval europe only though) till i was 12. or, you know, longer. and that's worked out pretty good for me, until this book.

ms. see does a pretty amazing job resurrecting all those horribly emphatic feelings. her characters are fleshed out so well that it's hard not to see and feel through them. and even though the story is beautiful, there's a lot of history in there to see and feel. This is not like "Sex and the Zhejiang Province", or those awesome soap operas out of Shanghai recently where everybody runs around an ancient chinese palace set waving fans and giggling and pouring tea and crying and having babies and being banished and what not.

Every main character in "Snow Flower" pretty much gets crapped upon continuously throughout their lives until they get too old to negotiate their way higher on the social food chain and just sit back and let their grandkids take care of them. Or you know, die. (NOT A SPOILER! Don't even try.)

which is basically awesome. definitely my kind of realistic, historical novel. i'm just warning everybody... don't wiki it. don't. you don't need to see the x-rays. because they're gonna stick with you, in tiny little grotesque foot nightmares. and you'll be stuck, for the rest of the book, pretending foot binding means everyone got to wear pretty tube socks in bright colors.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Alison I don't know how much I agree with your take on the book, but the review was hilarious. Good writing.

message 2: by Erin (new) - added it

Erin that's really nice of you, thanks.

just out of curiousity, did you like the book? what did you think?

Alison I did like it. I've never read anything based in Chinese culture before, so it was fascinating. That said, most of the book was uncomfortable to read and a teeny bit depressing (not to mention horrifying in a realisitc sort of way that makes you wish it wasn't true, but at the same time you know it's too raw to be the product of someone's imagination). I'm glad I read it because it was thought provoking, but it's not one I'd pick up again for a good time.

Melissa Erin, not sure how I ended up reading your review (my friend Heather apparently liked it and a link came up on my page) but I agree with the footbinding. I thought I was going to throw up and had to stop reading.

message 5: by Emily (new)

Emily Erin, love your review! I have this book sitting in my "to read" mom gave it to me when she finished and she really wants me to read it. Not sure I can live with the visuals I'd inevitably concoct in my brain though.

message 6: by Heather (new)

Heather I've been recommended this book by a friend and just read your review. I'm really not sure whether I want to give this book a go or not now. I read Wild Swans a couple of years ago which described foot binding in detail and I actually fainted whilst reading it!! I feel dizzy just thinking about it.... Great review though.

Maia B. I really like your review! Your description of footbinding horror pretty much tallies with mine - in fifth grade we were forced to watch a short video on China and there was a decade-long section on footbinding. My feet are pretty big, and I've always hated buying shoes, but I am now incredibly grateful for them.

Anne Marie Just because something is unpleasant doesn't mean it didn't happen. History that is ignored is doomed to be repeated. I had heard of foot binding but had no idea of the background or reasoning about it. I for one am grateful to Lisa See for bringing a face (although fictional) to something so few authors have been courageous enough to discuss.

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