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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
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AmyK (yakyma) | 1039 comments Happy Reading!!

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Just started today and I am looking forward to the discussion. I must say the descriptions of the footbinding are very difficult. I am always fascinated by other cultures and their definition of beauty. At first I was disgusted and maybe a bit smug about my own culture, but I then remembered that at the same time this was taking place in China, Western women were squeezing themselves into corsets.

Pragya  (reviewingshelf) | 3526 comments I heard this book in audio and absolutely loved it!

message 4: by Lynn (new)

Lynn | 2578 comments Heh Sara, you make a very good point!

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I went looking for some pictures of Victorian corsets and found some that were just as disturbing as the food binding. *shudder*

Is anyone else reading the Deluxe Reading Group Kindle edition? Mine has links to the end notes and while it's nice I find them distracting ("Must read all the notes!".) I must have the attention span of a squirrel. lol.

AmyCynthia (amy011883) | 146 comments I also had a bit of a hard time with the foot binding section. I remember learning about foot binding in school awhile ago, but I had forgotten how gruesome it really was. Great point Sara, about comparing it to corsets and so true. I remember reading something about how corsets could actually squeeze women's internal organs out of shape and permanently change the shape of their body...terrifying. Also, I think that the scariest part about both of these rituals is how common place they were. Girls just did them, it was just life.

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I think my first experience with foot binding was at a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum in St Augustine, FL. There was a display with pictures. I think I was in the ninth grade?

Anyhow I continue to enjoy this book. I am at the part where she meets Snow Flower for the first time. I feel quite bad for Lily. She wants so much to please and is so aware of her shortcomings.

I think what I like about the book is that Lisa See can write about the history and traditions without being overly didactic.

Silver | 451 comments This is my second book by Lisa See and I think her writing is quite beautiful. As mentioned above by Sara one of the things I love about her books is the way in which she can bring the reader such rich details without making the reading feel too tedious. There are times when the writing is almost poetic.

I think the China has quite a complex culture and there are many aspects of it such as the mentioned food binding that can be very difficult to imagine and process. Also it is rather sad to think of how aware the daughters were of their perceived intransigence within the family.

One thing that I do always find ironic about cultures which put such a strong emphasis upon sons, and view daughters as being a burden and unwanted, is the fact that it seems they do not seem to fully grasp the fact that if women stopped having daughters, pretty soon there would be no more sons either.

I do find the idea of the sworn sisterhood to be quite an interesting concept.

One thing which surprised me in the book is how old the children were before they began their foot binding. I had thought foot binding began in early babyhood.

Perhaps it is up to the individual family when they actual start the process or maybe it is a question of social status.

message 9: by Peggy, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peggy (pebbles84) | 14603 comments I'm not reading this book, but your comments made me curious about foot binding. I knew it was done to keep feet small, but I had no idea how exactly. I looked up some info and pictures and it really is quite disturbing...

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Silver wrote: "This is my second book by Lisa See and I think her writing is quite beautiful. ... There are times when the writing is almost poetic. "

I love that the writing is sparse yet rich and beautiful at the same time.

Silver | 451 comments Sara wrote: "Silver wrote: "This is my second book by Lisa See and I think her writing is quite beautiful. ... There are times when the writing is almost poetic. "

I love that the writing is sparse yet rich an..."

I think it can be a very difficult thing to find that balance between being descriptive without coming across as overly verbose or feel too much like "telling but not showing."

Lisa See does do a very job at drawing the reader into this different and far away world.

Silver | 451 comments Reading about the foot binding process was almost painful. It is hard to imagine that so many girls had to endure such a thing.

I did find it interesting that there were two distinct languages for men and women, and that the woman's language nu shu, was to be kept a secret from men.

I think it is one of the complexities of the culture of China. While women were so oppressed and viewed as being so insignificant within the culture, they created their own little world for themselves.

It was also interesting that when Lily becomes an important person, or at least someone with the potential to bring good fortune to her family, she is treated with even more indifference (opposed to being given greater affection for her improved status) then she was previously.

AmyCynthia (amy011883) | 146 comments Just finished this book. I really enjoyed it, I enjoy historical fiction and this is a time period and setting that I am not very familiar with, so it was a really interesting read for me. It was hard for me to put down.

The writing was really beautiful and I was fascinated by nu-shu. I can't decide if it existed to truly allow women to express themselves and was thus empowering, or if just served as a distraction to them so that they wouldn't bother themselves with learning the men's writing. I do not think that it is possible that nu-shu was actually completely kept secret from men, they had to know it existed.

Overall, a great read! A bit of a downer though, I will be happy to jump into my tea cozy read next.:)

Silver | 451 comments Amy wrote: "I do not think that it is possible that nu-shu was actually completely kept secret from men, they had to know it existed"

I would be inclined to think that men probably were aware that nu-shu existed, (though considering how generally disinterested men were in women beyond wanting sons maybe they did not know) but most probably I would suspect that they knew of the language but that no woman would teach a man to understand, read, or write nu-shu, and that it was secret from men in that way.

Daniel (dward526) picked up the audio of this one today, and I will start it soon. I have one to finish and one short one to listen to first.

message 16: by Janice, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Janice (jamasc) | 47241 comments Hi Daniel! Welcome.

Daniel (dward526) Janice wrote: "Hi Daniel! Welcome."

Thank you, looking forward to these discussions

Renee (reneeww) This was the first book I had read by Lisa See. I loved it. I read it with family & friends, I read it again for my real life book club, and now again for this group. It is still just as good. I have some pictures of bound feet unbound, & I am grateful to have my big feet. when they said the perfect size was the site of the thumb I looked at my thumb. We lived in Asia for awhile & I remember reading the perfect size was 3 inches, or so the woman could "walk" independently.

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

"I have some pictures of bound feet unbound, & I am grateful to have my big feet."

I'm grateful for my big feet, too! I have really avoided a google image search. The picture in my kindle edition was enough.

Renee (reneeww) I just finished, and once again, found this a great read. One of the discussion questions in my version, asked if the reader had a friendship resembling the laotong relationship in the book. I am fortunate to have several. A friend from my rice & salt days. We met because our sons became friends. I did not realize how deep the friendship was until she began dating seriously, and told me I must meet her beau, because if he & I did not mesh, the relationship was over. Thankfully he is a wonderful man, my husband and I both enjoy his company, and they did marry.

So I am asking others in this thread about your loatong relationships.

message 21: by Janice, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Janice (jamasc) | 47241 comments I read this book a couple of years back with my real life book club.

The foot binding section was graphic and shocking. I knew about it, but thought that they wrapped the feet when they were babies and stunted their growth. I had no idea.

We discussed it in great detail in our group. We talked about corsets, female circumcision, and some of the other things that humans have done in the name of "beauty", although, none of this was done for beauty. It was done to control women. How far could a woman run, if her feet were disfigured? If a woman can't enjoy sex, will she be interested in other men? I wonder how history will view us in 100 years as to some of our customs.

In a way, the foot binding almost overshadowed the rest of the book which was a rich tale about the amazing relationship between two friends.

My "loatong" friendship mirrors the story in the book. My friend and I were best friends for over twenty years. Her daughter and my son called each other brother and sister. And then we had a falling out and didn't speak for over 3 years. When I learned that she was sick and that it was possibly life threatening, I wanted to try to mend that break. We met for lunch and "made up", but it wasn't until I left my husband that we really mended the relationship. (I had no idea how much she disliked my ex!) Things are a little different now, but I'm grateful we are close again.

That psychic bond is back. I had a rather upsetting thing happen last week and no sooner did I think, "I should phone her", than the phone rang. She called me.

Silver | 451 comments I cannot say that I have a "traditional/true" loatong in so far as I have never really formed close bonds with other women. I don't really have girlfriends. But I have formulated some very close, long-lasting Brother-Sister relationships with some of my guy-friends.

Ava Catherine | 4258 comments Janice, I agree that the things like footbinding are done to women in societies to control them. What makes it so degrading is that women often carry out these procedures against other women just like the women in Lily's family bound the feet of the young girls so they could marry well.

Although I had read about footbinding before, I did not realize that so many girls died as a direct result.

message 24: by Janice, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Janice (jamasc) | 47241 comments Connie wrote: "Janice, I agree that the things like footbinding are done to women in societies to control them. What makes it so degrading is that women often carry out these procedures against other women just l..."

I agree! The custom was so ingrained in the society that girls that did not have their feet bound were not likely to make a good marriage. It was only the servant class or peasant class that had large feet. It then became the duty of the mothers to ensure that their daughters were marriageable.

It was the same with female circumcision. When I read Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur, it was the office of the women to perform this surgery - often without anesthetic and with rusty or unclean razors.

I have to wonder if I lived in those cultures could I or would I have followed suit? These mothers all had gone through the ordeals themselves and knew what pain they were subjecting their daughters to. I even folded my toes back and held them in that position for a few minutes. That, in itself was painful. I can't imagine having to endure the entire process.

Ava Catherine | 4258 comments It is so difficult to contemplate. As a woman, I have often thought except for the good fortune of geography and history, I would have lived a very different life because girls were/are not allowed the right to have an education in many places. Throughout history women have been brutalized, stripped of personal rights, and enslaved by horrific or ridiculous customs. (How many men do you think would actually try to walk around on spike heels? Really?)

Julia Gallagher (juliagallagher) | 140 comments It's been a little while since I've read this, but I remember really struggling with the descriptions of foot binding as well. Sometimes I find myself actually avoiding books because I know they have topics in them that are going to deeply bother me, like footbinding or rape scenes. On one hand, I know it's important to remember history and not sweep real topics under the rug. But sometimes I also just want to relax and not be bothered by disturbing images when I'm reading for pleasure. But i guess that's why I read different types of books depending on my mood. Anyway, I thought the language was lovely in this book and the story was really engaging.

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"In a way, the foot binding almost overshadowed the rest of the book which was a rich tale about the amazing relationship between two friends."

I think that happens a lot. There is something about human nature that makes us obsess over the grotesque to the point we ignore the bigger picture. Another example would be "The Jungle". Everyone was so up in arms over disgusting things going on with meat production that the message about the inhuman conditions of the workers were almost ignored.

I think I would have to say my loatong relationship would be my husband. As a rule I keep to myself and don't get very close to people at all.

Renee (reneeww) I read some books while living in Asia that the foot binding was done for beauty. There were beauty contests for the feet only. It also showed a man's wealth that the woman could not work in the fields.

Silver | 451 comments Renee wrote: "I read some books while living in Asia that the foot binding was done for beauty. There were beauty contests for the feet only. It also showed a man's wealth that the woman could not work in the fi..."

I think it is probably a complex issue in which there are many different facets of it. I believe that it did probably come to be seen as a standard of beauty, and women with small feet were seen both as desirable as well as a status symbol, but there are probably underlining/ulterior reasons for how/why it was that small feet did come to be perceived as such a symbol of beauty and desirability.

Marnie (marnie19) | 1994 comments I read this many years ago and still vividly recall the "popping" the author described.... I, too, think it is interesting what we do in the name of Beauty and how much unnecessary pain we, as women, put ourselves though. As someone who wears a size 10 shoe I think I would be a servants servant during this time.

Brenda I'm about half way through this book and having a hard time putting it down.

The footbinding is shocking and hard to read.

I find it difficult to put my thoughts and feelings about this book to words.

Daniel (dward526) I have started listening to the audiobook, so far, I am interested. The footbinding was touched on in the prologue. I take it it gets more...detailed later?

Brenda Finished! What an amazing story. I also like my gigantic feet very much.

Lily tried so hard to be a good person and she really did succeed in most aspects. She really failed her friend though and didn't even know it until Snow Flower died. Sad, very sad.

I loved this book and will probably read it again in the future.

Snoozie Suzie (snooziesuzie) | 937 comments Daniel - I had the same thoughts when I started the Prologue, thinking I don't know why they are all so disturbed by the foot binding section as it doesn't seem that bad. Yes, you are correct in thinking there is more. And yes it's rather mind-blowing. I won't go into further detail as I don't want to spoil it but I couldn't believe what happened as a result.

Snoozie Suzie (snooziesuzie) | 937 comments I'm rather loving toward my flat, square, 'puddy' feet even if others think they are odd looking. At least my toes are where they should be, and are of a size proportionate to the rest if me. Although in the coming months they may grow a little ... ;-)

Esther (nyctale) | 4146 comments I just went through the foot-binding chapter and I join all of you in getting a new love for my big feet. *shudders*

I am really enjoying the book so far.

More later

message 37: by Roz (last edited Dec 14, 2013 05:49PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Roz | 3494 comments I'm reading this during the Toppler, and really enjoying it. Like all of you, I find the foot-binding quite disturbing but when it was done it was deemed beauty enhancing. Think about what women do today. Plucked eyebrows, breast implants, push up bras, diets to look like those skinny models in magazines, various shoe styles. Not as drastic as foot-binding to be sure, but still for the sake of beauty and sex of course. I first remember foot-binding from the movie, Inn of the Seventh Happiness.

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I've just finished and I have to say I didn't find Lily to be very sympathetic toward the end. She tried to redeem herself and I guess she succeeded.

I wonder if her long life was almost cosmic punishment? She had a lot of years to sit, ponder and feel guilty.

It's kind of hard to write about it without giving away spoilers. LOL.

Esther (nyctale) | 4146 comments I also just finished. I really like this book and will try to read something else by her.

I agree with you Sara. Then again, if we live in a bubble as these women were, i wonder if we would have done better. Maybe, then again maybe we would have done worse.

This book reminded me of a book i read when i was a teenager, Ainsi Soit-Elle. It does not seem to have been translated in English. This essay covers of lot of the cultural things women had to live through and still do, i am afraid. I am afraid reading it today would just point out how little thing changed in the last 30 years in many countries.

Sandra (sanlema) | 9191 comments I'm starting this right now. Hope to still have time for share some thoughts with you!!

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Esther wrote: "Then again, if we live in a bubble as these women were, i wonder if we would have done better. Maybe, then again maybe we would have done worse."

I had similar thoughts as I read. Lily had always wanted her mother's affection and thought that by being the ideal female/mother/wife she would gain some affection and to a certain degree she did. Perhaps that is why the only thing she could offer Snow Flower in the way of help was a repetition of all her lessons on being the "perfect female."

Even today with our supposed "enlightenment" women still find themselves in situations like Snow Flower and all society seems to offer is the same sort of messages Lily repeated.

Perhaps that is why I found her so unsympathetic. For me, she just represents all the high and mighty smugness that so many people today spew out. Lily had so much; of course it was easy for her to tell Snow Flower to eat better, have more sons and all the other advice she gave. Lily had no idea how good she had it and really she owed it all to Snow Flower's, Madame Wang's and her mother's deception. She seemed a bit ungrateful to me.

Lynn G. I'm only at the beginning of the book but was compelled to find out more about foot binding. A cursory search revealed this:

It is both informative and disturbing.

Snoozie Suzie (snooziesuzie) | 937 comments I can see how Lily is thought of as ungrateful but she just wanted to be loved by her mother and all she could see that she got were the lessons and deceit. Did she see the lessons as passing on love and affection for they were what her Mother taught her how to get the best from her life, and so she believed she was passing on love to Snow Flower. But, I can imagine that living so unusually long be torturous replaying things over and again. And missing her old same the whole time. Could she have known better? Perhaps not as they lived such disciplined yet isolated lives, then the two lives were so different she could not understand.
Lots to think about.

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Cherie (crobins0) | 19596 comments I have been following the comments in this group read because I have this book on my TBR list, but I was not able to join in the read with you all because I felt that I had too many other books that needed to be finished. I know I will read it one day.

Thank you, Lynn G. for your link. I just finished watching it.

message 45: by Daniel (last edited Dec 16, 2013 06:04AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Daniel (dward526) I am finding the inter-family politics interesting, with the intermediate of the matchmaker. As well as the layering and separation in society, not just male/female, but the stratification in those circles themselves. Very Confucian, and represented well in this story.

(about 1/3 through)

Silver | 451 comments I am struggling a bit with fully understanding and grasping Lily's reaction to discovering the truth about Snow Flower, and the state of her family. I have mixed feelings about it and it is hard to relate being so far removed from Lily's experiences.

On the one hand I can understand why she would be upset and angry that Snow Flower, her laotong had been dishonest with her and not trusted her with the truth (as well as indirectly and unintentionally allowing Lily to believe that Snow Flower or her family were ashamed of Lily's background) and I can understand her being upset at being deceived by her own family and feeling used by Madam Wong.

But on the other hand in spite of the deception Lily still was able to build a wonderful relationship with Snow Flower of which she would not have had otherwise, and she was still being given the opportunity to gain and advantageous marriage for herself and improve her conditions.

So while on the one hand no one likes being lied to on the other hand I do not see that the deception has truly changed anything regarding Lily's fate or her relationship with Snow Flower.

It seems to me more than anything her pride/ego had just been hurt at realizing that it was not just because she was so special (on account of her feet) that allowed her to have Snow Flower as a lautong, but the fact that Madam Wong needed to find someone who could be used to improve her nieces own future prospects.

Sandra (sanlema) | 9191 comments I finished it last night. I enjoyed the writing,vivid and full of details but not tiring. I liked to know more about foot binding understanding it as a complex mix of a different concept of beauty, kind of engine of social status improvement, a way of control women and a character builder. I liked to explore the different ways women related among them and nu shu, their secret language.
The plot engaged me. I'll probably try other Lisa See's novels.
I understand than Lily at some point seems to be selfish, but thinking that women passed their lives "incarcerated" in the upstairs room and their only learning being how to satisfy their husbands and in-laws I can't think how she could know better...
To be honest, I'm still thinking about it, so probably I would have more to say when I finished to "digest" some things. :)

Silver | 451 comments One of the things I really liked this book is the way in which on the one hand it did portray the harsh reality of what women had to endure, the way in which they were viewed by the culture, and how they were treated. But on the other hand there was also a very human side to this book in which it was seen, even if women were considered to be worthless and of no account, and even if the men were conditioned to ill treat the women, or give them very little regard, we still saw that husbands and fathers developed deep feelings of affection and love for daughters and wives.

In regards to Lily, while I do think she did behave very poorly at times and could be rather petty (particularly when she was led to believe Snow Flower joined a sworn sisterhood) I did not see Lily so much as acting with intentional selfish but rather I saw it much the time as Lily's inability to truly understand and see Snow Flower for who she truly was. Much as her own husband had tried to warn her, in spite of their deep intimacy and childhood friendship they were polar opposites and I think there was a degree of misunderstanding and miscommunication between Lily and Snow Flower.

In Lily's inalienability to give Snow Flower the comfort that she sought and in the seemingly inventive remarks Lily made, in repeating the conventional phrases, I do not think there was malice on Lily's part, but because of their vastly different life experiences I felt Lily was just falling back upon known comfortable phrases because she felt herself at a loss of words and simply did not know how to comfort Snow Flower.

Lily's impatience with Snow Flower came from her frustration with the fact that Lily could not see Snow Flower for who she was. Lily still thought of Snow Flower as the adventurous girl she knew from her childhood.

It was hard for Lily to reconcile what she was seeing with the girl she expected and needed Snow Flower to be, and part of it may also have come from Lily's own sense of helplessness in not being able to truly do anything to protect of help Snow Flower.

Shannon (sianin) | 453 comments I really liked this book a lot. I really appreciated how she brought the whole foot binding into reality. Those photos at Ripley's Believe it or not didn't really get across how painful the process would be and how you would have to actually break your bones and other disturbing images. She did it so well without being gruesome.

I really liked everything about it including her writing but wish there was just a bit more about the secret women's language. What a fascinating part of the story but unfortunately not a major part.

message 50: by Roz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Roz | 3494 comments Seen through 21st century eyes, life for women in Lily's and Snow Flower's time was harsh, to say the least. Even they often viewed their lives in the upstairs room as being in a prison with few freedoms. There was a strict social structure with rules and customs that had to be followed even down to verbal responses to each other. Men, of course, had their own rules but far more freedom. This isn't new. At the same time, it was understood that women did need support in their lives and since that probably wasn't going to come from men, it would have to come from other women. It was acceptable, even encouraged, to form these sworn sisterhoods, loatong contracts, and to develop a secret language, nu shu, that only women used.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It's taking me a while to digest it (I'm still chewing on some parts of it), but overall, I feel sorry for both Lily and Snow Flower. They were entered into their laotong relationship because it would serve a purpose later in life, a rise in status, to help make a better marriage. These weren't just two little girls having a play date. Lily's status increased once she married. Snow Flower's was on the decline but she tried to hide it from her friend. Lily never saw the telltale signs, such as the repeated use of the same material in Snow Flower's clothes. At some point, it seems that Lily forgot where she came from, and turned her back on her friend. Of the two of them, I think Snow Flower was a far better person, a far better friend.

After Snow Flower died, Lily realized what she had done, how she had hurt / shunned Snow Flower. She now had years ahead of her to live with her guilt. In a society that believed that you met again in the next world, she was spending these years trying to make up for what she had done, by helping Snow Flower's son. The last lines made me realize that the entire book was an apology, and a plea for forgiveness.

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