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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  352,524 ratings  ·  18,267 reviews
In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “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’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in s ...more
Paperback, 269 pages
Published February 21st 2006 by Random House (first published 2005)
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Joanmlittle My research says no but I think today's high heels compare in terms of their ability to deform the wearer's feet.…moreMy research says no but I think today's high heels compare in terms of their ability to deform the wearer's feet.(less)
Carolyn Vasiliauskas the 1800's are the 19th century. …morethe 1800's are the 19th century. (less)

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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  352,524 ratings  ·  18,267 reviews

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Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Susannah
Recommended to Jeana by: Susannah
Wow. I just finished this book and wanted to come write about it immediately so I don't forget how it made me feel. First off, the language is beautiful and so fitting for the context. The two girls--Snow Flower and Lily--have a friendship that is beautiful and is fun to pick out little pieces from my own childhood/current friendships that I recognize and adore.

My next thoughts are not necessarily critiques of the book, but of the way the Chinese thought: I had a real problem with hearing over
Jun 11, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: fiction
I had high hopes for this book, but ended up feeling deflated and disappointed. Two aspects of the book were interesting: descriptions of the practice of Chinese footbinding, and an exploration of 'nu shu,' the written language Chinese women developed to communicate exclusively with each other.

Unfortunately, the book also has two major problems: a boring story, and the use of cheap gimmicks instead of complex characterization.

The story deals with two girls who are matched as 'old sames,' sort
My grandmother used to say that my big feet meant I had a “good foundation.” I’d stare longingly at her size-six feet when she said this and curse my genetic inheritance from elsewhere in the family tree. Then I had an ex-boyfriend make the infuriating statement that rich women have small feet. I pointed out that his celebrity crush, Paris Hilton (yeah, another reason I dumped him) has huge size-eleven feet.

My teenage-self took a lot of comfort in the fact that foot size is pre-ordained and unc
"For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me – as a girl and later as a woman – to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life."

What a sad yet beautiful book this was! I adore historical fiction that can really immerse me in another time and place and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan did just that. Transported back to 19th century China, I believe I arrived at a better understanding of a woma
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
A book is a magical thing, that lets you travel to far-away places without ever leaving your chair. Quote by Katrina Mayer.
This week I have time travelled to nineteenth-century China, 1970s Texas, 1850s Louisiana and at the moment I am on a whistle stop tour with A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom by John Boyne and no 2 week isolation required when I return.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is my second novel by Lisa See having read Shanghai Girls a couple of years ago.

Set in Nineteenth C
Petra X is enjoying a road trip across the NE USA
I tried to read it. It was so non-compelling, who were these little mice of women, what were they up to, why should I care? MAKE ME CARE. The plot didn't, the characters didn't and so I couldn't get past about page 50. My mind kept drifting off and by the time I was conscious of reading again I wouldn't know what had happened so I had to reread it again and again up unto the fourth rereading of the same pages. (Exactly the same experience I had with Rushdie's Satanic Verses). So I gave up.

I tho
Jun 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
An Excellent Choice for Book Clubs

I had a hard time putting down this book and felt utterly transported to a village in the Hunan province in central south China during the early to mid-nineteenth century. The narrator, 80-year-old Lily, who refers to herself as one who has "yet to die," tells the story of her life. She has outlived her family members and relates the story of her formative years--and her relationship with another woman, Snow Flower. This well written tale is related with clarit
Read and reviewed in 2008. Review updated in 2020 - without rereading the book - to focus on "secret" languages.

This is a first person tale of a Chinese girl in mid the 19th century. It's a poignant story that quietly teaches a lot about the culture of the time and place: poverty, footbinding, marriage, and particularly sisterhood/laotong - a legalistic long-term exclusive "old-same" friendship with another girl.

Image: A secret fan, from the BBC article (link below).

I enjoyed more as it progres
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) Vegan
Mar 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in women in 19th century rural China or who enjoy learning about other cultures
I ended up enjoying this book because it was so beautifully written and it took me deep into a world so unlike my own; thank goodness for that! This story takes place in China’s Hunan Province in the 1800s and is more about the inner lives of the women than the men.

I had a complete misconception of what foot binding entailed. It’s completely different, and so much more brutal a practice than I ever could have imagined. There were also many examples given of what I consider other horrendous cust
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This has got to be one of the most beautiful, yet heartbreaking books that I have ever read. The subject matter is horrific but the story is truly engaging.

The main storyline in this book is about the horrible patriarchal practise, foot-binding, that took place in China in the past. The graphic descriptions in this book are certain to turn anyone’s stomach. I would like to know who decided that 7 centimetre-long feet were “sexy.” The obsession with feet truly perplexed me; how could young men kn
Barbara H
I actually wavered between giving this book a rating of 3 or 4 stars. This is not because Lisa See was unable to portray the life in this feudal Chinese society well, because much of this was vivid and interesting. The oppression of women, including the horrors of footbinding, isolation and servitude to men and one's in-laws were all clearly and often dismayingly illustrated.

One problem with this novel is how much better the tale could have been related if written in the third person, rather tha
Ahmad Sharabiani
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a 2005 novel by Lisa See set in nineteenth-century China. In rural Hunan province, a county in China, Lily and her friend Snow Flower are a laotong pair whose sisterly relationship is far stronger and closer than a husband and wife's. Lily's aunt describes a laotong match this way: "A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and
Jun 01, 2017 rated it liked it
2010 F.A.B. Bookclub pick # I.❤️. F.A.B.

While I found the historic aspects of the book fascinating, it was a fairly depressing read. I was holding onto hope that it would become uplifting at some point. There is no happiness in this book. I don't know if I'd recommend it to anyone. It wasn't bad, but It wasn't amazing either.
Jun 14, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Ever since reading Memoirs of a Geisha, I've been looking for a book that will let me relive that excitement. So I was hoping that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan would fit the bill for my craving for Asian drama :)

I would have to say that this book did not. I found it difficult to get invested in the characters who seemed somewhat flat to me. The narrator wasn't engaging enough to make me feel a connection to her. Really, the strength of the book in my opinion was the detail it spent in developi
Moses Kilolo
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. A spectacular book.

I haven’t read anything this deeply affecting for quite a while {at least on the level of love and relationships}. I was hooked from the beginning. And the grace and depth of Lisa See’s storytelling had me contemplating about life and the deeds and the choices we make concerning our own lives, those that are made on our behalf and how all these affects those who we most cherish. Fate. Is it something nature, or us, or others, or some higher power design for us? Is i
Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

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I'm doing a project where I reread some of the books I enjoyed in my teens and adolescence. SNOWFLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN is one of those. When I read MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA as a teen, I enjoyed it so much that I immediately started seeking out similar books and some of the authors that were recommended to me by... someone-- a librarian? a teacher? my mom? I can't remember-- were Anchee Min and Lisa See.

✨Bean's Books✨
Such a sad story.
Snow Flower and Lily are laotong. They are "old sames". Joined forever in a bond of sisterhood that runs deeper than blood since the time of their foot binding (7 years old). But life's hardships has no mercy for these two young women. and as women in China their life holds no value. Can their laotong bond withstand the tragedies that life throws at them?
This book was a glimpse into the lives of women in China before the 19th century. It was very interesting in many respects. Th
Mar 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: reading-now
My book club was more interested in talking about their trips to China than See's book. So I am happy for Good Reads. While I found the writing journalistic: that is competent, extremely well researched, fast paced, page-turning, I cannot truly say it was well written. No phrase or passage noteworthy for its beauty or addition to literature. I was fascinated, however, by the potential for beautiful prose but lists just don't do that for me. The publisher's missed an opportunity to replicate the ...more
May 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really hate cultures that put the importance of one human being over another and particularly boys over girls (mine included). But, Lisa See did a great job in taking us into the hearts and souls of two women and the hardships and love that they lived, endured and suffered over their lifetime. There are many tigger warnings here, foot-binding, disrespectful treatment of women by men and by women and some very poverty stricken circumstances makes for very difficult reading. If you want a more t ...more
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
I LOVED Snow Flower and the Secret Fan! It was sad, yet fulfilling, true and honest, yet fictional. A truly moving story about the hardships of being a woman in nineteenth-century China. Yes, foot binding too. We'll get there. By the way, this is going to be a buddy read review, so get ready to read a lot of questions and answers! If you want to read the interview questions and answers, read them on my blog here, as it is too long to put into a Goodreads review.

In nineteenth century Chi
Jan 06, 2015 rated it liked it

The story revolves around Lily and Snow Flower, two girls in rural China who - as seven-year-olds - become laogong, official lifelong best friends.

The girls have their feet bound on the same day (a horrifying practice in which a girl's feet are bound until the bones break and they can be contorted into a small shape), visit on occasion, and frequently write each other on a fan in a language called Nu Shu or women's writing - supposedly unreadable by men.

Nu Shu

As the girls grow up they marry, mo
Joy D
Set in China in the early to mid -19th century, this book tells of a deep friendship between two women, Lily and Snow Flower. Their relationship, known as a laotong, is intended to last a lifetime. It begins when they are children and is arranged by a matchmaker. The girls learn and communicate in a secret women’s-only written language, nu shu, which differs significantly from men’s writing. Snow Flower and Lily inscribe messages on a fan and send it by courier to each other, similar to a pen pa ...more
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 t
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 bind
Apr 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Have you ever wanted to know how it would have been if you would have lived in another time, like the Roaring Twenties, or ancient Egypt or Rome? Well the book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, took me to 19th century China. I felt like I had lived with Lily and experience her hardships, like her foot binding. This book made me realize how lucky I am to have been born in the 20th century, and to the culture I was born in. Everything that Lily and Snow Flower experience makes this book ...more
Addie H
Sep 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: b-comp-hist-fic
I have a whole life to tell; I have nothing left to lose and few to offend.

Three quarters of this book was fascinating. An enthralling glimpse of a way of life in China that was beyond harsh. I was utterly enthralled to read about the friendship between Snow Flower and Lily.

The last quarter takes a surprisingly dark twist, and it threw me a bit. There are some rather dramatic events that felt a bit out of place, and ultimately I didn't quite understand Lily's extreme behaviour.

That said, the en
Mar 25, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: People who want to sigh over a female friendship without thinking too critically
My review from Amazon (back in the days before I discovered goodreads!) -- I read this several years ago, but felt compelled to start a literary argument with my sister when I heard she actually liked this book. ;)

"The Secret Life of Bees" meets "Women of the Silk"

I'm getting a little tired of the "female friendship" genre that seems to pervade contemporary literature these days. While there are some better-written examples of this category, many of them seem to be written with the agenda of ext
Mar 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 女性
On my 13th birthday, I was furiously handed a copy of Amy Vanderbilt's New Complete Book of Etiquette: The Guide to Gracious Living as my desperate cries for Madonna’s Erotica album were sternly dismissed. Phrases of "Learn to behave like a lady" and "Beauty comes from pain", swayed alongside numerous sermons on feminine mannerisms that became a major part of my teenage life. The former was courteously bestowed advising as to how a bra was essentially an undergarment and not a lacy billboard (He ...more
Lisa See never disappoints me, and I loved my experience reading "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan". She truly is THE authority on historical fiction set in China. Although this is the book I've heard is the most "famous", I find "Shanghai Girls", "Dreams of Joy", and "Peony In Love" were a bit more to my tastes; I just connected more with those characters than I did with Snow Flower and Lily. That should not deter anyone from reading this novel, however - it is popular for a reason. It is extreme ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
Over the centuries every culture has its own version of "perfection" and refinement that sets people (women, mostly) apart from their counter parts. Foot binding in China was equated with elitism and gave girls an opportunity to marry a higher class man. The brutality of it was expected in the same way corsets were used in Victorian England to make the waists look tinier. Over the time, the requirements for refinements have changed but haven't completely disappeared. Women to this day are subjec ...more
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Lisa See is a Chinese-American author. Her books include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), Dragon Bones, and On Gold Mountain. She was named the 2001 National Woman of the Year, by the Organization of Chinese American Women. She lives in Los Angeles.

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