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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (original 2005; edition 2005)

by Lisa See

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8,882386339 (4.03)512
Member:madeleine71
Title:Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Authors:Lisa See
Info:Random House (2005), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 272 pages
Collections:Your library, Books, General fiction
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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel by Lisa See (2005)

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» See also 512 mentions

English (376)  Spanish (2)  Danish (2)  Catalan (2)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (384)
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Last night I watched Grandma. Starring Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, and Marcia Gay Harden, Grandma, released in 2015, depicts the misanthropic yet philanthropic Elle (Tomlin), a poet in the layered throes of letting go, and her granddaughter's attempt to raise the money Sage (Garner) needs in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Currently broke and with credit cards cast to the wind (literally made into a wind chime), Elle stirs up the ghosts of relationships past and old debts as she seeks out the necessary 600 dollars with Sage in tow. An indie-style 'dramedy,' Grandma possesses a charisma and wisdom that is encouraging and impacting. All the more so because Tomlin is a comedic power and genuine badass that I really admire.

Watching this movie when I was about halfway through See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan leant its own bit of added punch to both movie and novel as personal experiences always do. I deeply believe that interpretation through our experiences lends a complexity to reading that has no equivalent. It makes each reading of an old favorite something newly intense and poignant and it points out parallels and thoughts that might change and should grow in depth through our years of reading and living.

One of these thoughts so vividly sparking in my head while finishing See's novel was the astonishment such a movie would cause in past generations. The upset it would have caused a decade ago, the vitriol it has probably even been met with today. That's not to say that the issues brought to the fore in Grandma are one sided representations; the wisdom of the movie is that many sides of one issue are spotlighted, unapologetically and with great empathy.

So, does a movie like Grandma mean progress from a history of women-centric binding, both physical and metaphorical? I believe so and I kind of held onto that a bit as I traveled further into the Rice and Salt Days of Snow Flower and Lily, the Sitting Quietly of Lily alone with her regrets. Because there was an immense disquiet that settled on me while I read of the torturous foot binding tradition of earlier pages and a life raft of modernity was comforting. A disquiet born of modern privilege, a shallow pool that tepidly cools the "big, flapping feet" of the white American woman as strongly held onto as Lily's memories of cool river water lapping at unbound feet. And yet just as tenuous as such a memory because similar traditions still exist and women, people, still remain bound.

And even though so many thoughts were pulled out from the cloths of foot binding and the travails of Elle and Sage so that they're still rumbling around up there in my head, there were many more to be had.

The writer of Grandma, Paul Weitz, has written this movie to include an encouraging amount of empathy for all characters involved. Which brings to the fore part of See's novel and even a question included in the discussion section at the back concerning the fact that though the language of women, Nu Shu, was to be between women solely and never touched by men - there were men that knew of its existence. In the discussion question it is asked why the reader thinks these men allowed its existence. In the book, it is posed that these men didn't think women had anything of value to say either emotionally or as creative individuals with personal experiences. Fast forward to today and we have a man that has written and directed an empathetic portrayal of a still largely considered "women's issue" that is mainstream enough to be perceived as both relatable drama and comedy. We can watch a movie in which powerful and talented women give voices to this portrayal.

And yet... One of the hardest hitting issues of See's Secret Fan, the issue of the relationships between women, almost dampens the thrill such progress holds. Because it is still such a prevalent issue. After all it was mothers that bound their daughter's feet, tied their corsets, and told them they were worthless branches amongst the solidness and visibility gifted to the opposite sex. Women criticize other women, girls bully other girls. Black and white, right? Be nice and positive to other women in order to gain progress. Simple. But even this simplicity enforces the idea that all women are alike, that all women should like and nurture others. As if we're all both bonsai tree and gardener.

What I'm getting at, what I'm doing a horrible job of getting at, is that both See's novel and Grandma reflect the history and humanity of women in a multitude of thought-provoking ways. And while each of the parallels my parallel hunting and consuming brain has drawn in the above rambles is representative of power and progress, the real progress, the real power, has always been in the the provocation of thoughts. The propagation of words, ideas, experiences. Whether in the phonetic calls of two young girls bound to their fates or the actresses that can now lend voices to a part or in the click of a woman's fingers on a keyboard as she reviews a book (albeit poorly) in a space that she can, equally, express thoughts.

See's book is powerful. It made me think on so many levels; it made me cherish my place in time all the more while breathing life into those that came before me in a truly impactful way. It is enjoyable historical fiction that possesses the best thing about that genre, the taste of reality, the gravity of real presence.
( )
  lamotamant | Jun 23, 2016 |
One of the best books I have ever read, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan opened up new worlds to explore about older chinese practices and life. I am sad it is finished. ( )
  Michelle_Wendt | Jun 15, 2016 |
This was a beautiful and moving story. I absolutely loved it. ( )
  BuffyBarber | Jun 5, 2016 |
I absolutely loved this book especially the description of nu shu, I found the descriptions of foot binding very interesting and I'll never complain about sore feet again. ( )
  KarenDuff | Jun 1, 2016 |
The writing in my opinion is journalistic: well researched, fast-paced, page turning. Lisa See was able to portray feudal Chinese society just enough to peak my curiosity. I found myself going to the library yesterday and ordering the documentary : Nu Shu- A hidden language of women in China. (thus the 4 star rating)

A few quotes from the book comes to mind and leaves me contemplating about deeds and choices that are made and how those affect those we love and cherish.

“ I have too many troubles, Snow Flower had written. I cannot be what you wish. You won’t have to listen to my complaints anymore. The three sworn sisters have promised to love me as I am….”

Lily :…"I was lost in my belief in my own self-importance…not considered texture,context and shades of meaning." ( )
  WanderRoxyBooks | Jun 1, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lisa Seeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ridder, SusanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Song, JanetNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
I am what they call in our village "one who has not yet died" -- a widow, eighty years old.
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No matter how scared I was of her words, I wanted to cling to those wings and fly away
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Book description
Friends Snow Flower and Lily find solace in their bond as they face isolation, arranged marriages, loss, and motherhood in nineteenth-century China.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812968069, Paperback)

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 secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:23 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In nineteenth century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, or "old same," in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The two women exchange messages written on silk fans and handkerchieves using nu shu, a unique language that women created in order to communicate in secret, sharing their experiences, but when a misunderstanding arises, their friendship threatens to tear apart.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 12 descriptions

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