Rachel's Reviews > Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
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's review
Apr 21, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: for-gifts, stacy-tanner-thomas
Recommended for: those wanting a fast, emotionally rich read about friendships/culture/women in rural 1800s China
Read in July, 2008

A truly gripping tale about women living in rural China in the mid- to late 1800s. The author is wonderful at drawing the reader into this foreign landscape and culture and making you feel for the women in the story. The story is narrated by a woman at the end of her life. She's basically telling the life stories of herself and her soul-mate. As such, she sprinkles the story with little hints about what is to come later, without actually telling us how this will come to be. This built a lot of suspense and raised a lot of questions in my mind as I was reading. I never felt a dull moment in the entire book. I was always deeply concerned for the characters and wondering what would become of them ... when they cried, my eyes got misty; when they were happy, my heart felt joy. I kept taking advantages of little bits of time here and there to read a few more pages and find out what would happen next. For me, these are all signs of a very good book!!!!

I just finished reading "What is the What" a couple days ago as well. Finishing them at the same time got me thinking. I think Lily's and Snow Flower's life stories are just as worthwhile reading about, in concept, as Achak Deng's ... the girls had to trek all over the place and survive starvation in the cold winter, and experienced many sorrows, disease, and war .... all in BOUND FEET. And when it comes to bad luck stories, I'd say Achak ain't got nothin' on Snow Flower. Both books took place mainly in countries with customs/culture very different from my own. In each book, I'd say I learned equal amounts about the sorrows and history of the Dinka people in Sudan in the 1980s/90s and the Yao people in China in the 1800s. And both are supposed to be works of fiction, based on true stories of real people and historic events. Happily, Lisa See's book drew me in and made me love the characters ... I cried for them, learned a lot, and felt deeply moved by the experience. Meanwhile, I contemplate Dave Eggers' book of FICTION, based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng. With Dave Eggers' book, I had to read an extra 300 pages and never felt like I understood or had "gotten to know" most of the characters in the book, including Achak. I got a better feel for the man by reading the info and viewing the pictures on his web site (www.valentinoachakdeng.org)

Viewed side by side, you can clearly see how "What is the What" sinks miserably in that famous Sudanese mud, while "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" (to use a prominent word from Lisa See's book) soars.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (last edited Jul 12, 2008 08:54PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Vegan Rachel,

I agree about the book being completely riveting. It must have been strange to read What is the What? so close to this one.

Actually, I'm considering taking a star off What is the What? because of what you've written; you're refreshing my memory. (I'll think about that.)

But, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is pure fiction, isn't it? Yes, Lisa See did a lot of research and I believe she depicted well what life was like for women in this time and place, but all of the characters are fictional. Right?

I agree with you 100% about what you said about the suffering of those in each book. Deng is now in the U.S., presumably with funds and education at this point, although he certainly suffered. The women shown in this book had no way at all out of their circumstances and their suffering was immense.

And where was that opium anyway?! It was shown as a drug of abuse, but didn't they have it available for physical pain?!?!

message 2: by Rachel (last edited Jul 13, 2008 11:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rachel Lisa, yes, Lisa wrote her book based on STORIES of real people, and the characters in the book do not necessarily match up with real people that we know about from the 1800s. She was free to write her own tale, but she wove in many of the real details from women she met in her trip to China, and she used real historical details about the rebellion and the emperors, etc. Just as much as Eggers' story could be considered a composite of the many experiences of the Lost Boys, I think Lisa See's story could be considered a composite of Chinese women's experiences back in that time period.

My point here is that Dave Eggers decided to make his book FICTION, not a true biography. Since his book was fiction, there was nothing preventing him from making the book just as engrossing and powerful as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I believe this is true even though Dave Eggers' story was based on a specific real person, while Lisa See's was not. In fact, with VAD's incredible, epic story as the base material, and with the advantage of being able to personally talk to VAD to get all the details, Eggers' fiction version should have been even more engrossing and powerful.

Lisa Vegan My point here is that Dave Eggers decided to make his book FICTION, not a true biography. Since his book was fiction, there was nothing preventing him from making the book just as engrossing and powerful as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

I agree with you.

message 4: by Rachel (last edited Sep 17, 2008 05:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rachel One more thing I forgot to bring up in my review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan ...

Where did that whole vegetarianism subplot come from? Lisa and I read this book as part of our vegetarian book club. I was surprised that the author had Auntie tell the story about the woman married to a butcher who became vegetarian. Later on, Snow Flower become vegetarian, as if following in the footsteps of the woman in the story. And then Lily, too, toward the end of the book!

Also, what did you think about how people thought it was so awful and unclean to be married to a butcher? How did it makes sense for these people to shun butchers, who were simply slaughtering the animals that the people themselves desired to eat?

... I realize a lot of the things the people did back then didn't make sense, like binding feet and not valuing daughters. I guess this "We Love Meat, and We Hate Butchers" mentality is just one more example.

I feel like I used to never read books with any mention of vegetarian characters or vegetarian issues, but I'm seeing more and more of it lately. Heck, even Elphaba from the book Wicked was vegetarian. (Although Elphaba apparently ate cheese, which would have been a total no-no for someone with beliefs such as hers; the inclusion of cheese in Elphaba's diet was probably an oversight on the author's part.)

Lisa Vegan Rachel, Well, I don't think it's any different that today. Most people let other people kill & grow their food for them. The nice aseptic packages of various meats in the supermarket keeps consumers protected from what is involved in the food animals' journeys.

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