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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005)

by Lisa See

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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10,845423523 (4)584
Lily is haunted by memories--of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness. In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu ("women's writing"). They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become "old sames" at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, 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 lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.… (more)
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» See also 584 mentions

English (413)  Spanish (3)  Danish (2)  Catalan (2)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (422)
Showing 1-5 of 413 (next | show all)
bookclub book
  PatLibrary123 | Aug 9, 2022 |
This book of life-long friendship is set in 19th century rural China.

At age 7 the two girls, Lily and Snow Flower, sign a contract to become "old sames" or laotong. This friendship is intended to be closer than their eventual marriages and children, and to survive any hardship and any distance.

The book is a fascinating peek into the customs of footbinding and arranged marriages. ( )
  sriddell | Aug 6, 2022 |
I've wanted to read this story ever since I saw the movie back in the noughties so when I saw it at an op shop I grabbed it! It was so worth the wait!
Lily is the daughter of a lowly farmer in Yongming Province. To her family she is just a 'useless branch', another mouth to feed. But when the local matchmaker calls & delivers the startling news that if Lily's feet are bound properly, they will be flawless, this changes her & her family's circumstances consideringly. She is now able to make a good marriage & secure a laotong (a soul sister), Snowflower. But one day a shocking discovery changes everything.....
To say I loved this story doesn't go far enough, this story is just wonderful & like I said, definitely worth the wait! The prose flows off the page, it's clean & very straight forward & the language is beautiful. I was sucked in from the first page. The characters were fascinating, I loved getting to know Lily, Snowflower & the rest of the girls/ladies that came into Lily's life a various times. This book drew back the veil on the secret's of women's lives in China during the Qing dynasty.
This book has it's dark side though. We learn about the practise of footbinding & how utterly worthless women were unless they gave their husbands sons. Here's a quote to give you a picture:
'Even now, after all these years, it is difficult for me to think about Mama & what I realised on that day. I saw so clearly that I was inconsequential to her. I was a third child, a second worthless girl, too little to waste time on until it looked like I would survive my milk years.'
Despite that though it's a fascinating read. Snowflower & Lily's friendship was lovely & despite being rather depressing at times it's an awesome read.
  leah152 | Apr 1, 2022 |
I often feel what is Chinese cannot be presented accurately in English. I've read a couple of English-language fiction that had Chinese cultural settings, and the authors always, always gets it wrong. Perhaps it is because the authors, although usually ethnic Chinese, tend to be removed from the Chinese culture by 1 or 2 generations. They grew up in an English-speaking culture where they learned to write English-language fiction with skill. They have a heart to bring Chinese culture into the world of English-language fiction. And I can see from the book's afterword, and from my own quick research on this ethnic minority group the author depicted, that she really did a lot of research. But it's still not quite right. It is hard to enjoy the story when you keep recognizing things that don't make sense. So I don't really know how to comment on the setting, character and plot of this novel. I had to keep telling myself not to treat it not as a story set in historical China, but in a fictional country with its unique, fictional culture. But even with this perspective, the final climax of the book, in which Lily became estranged from her best friend Snow Flower, made no sense to me. The two friends became estranged over a minor misunderstanding, which is surely very easy to clear up. But it was not cleared up, persisted for many years, and led to disastrous results. Why? I would like this book a lot better if this arc were taken out.

The part of the book that left the most impact on me was the process through which the main character Lily went through foot binding. It was extremely cruel. It was basically child abuse. The author even went as far as to have a child character die of the foot binding to drive this point in. Chinese culture has many admirable qualities, but foot binding is something we should be very, very ashamed of. So glad in the early 20th century highly educated men recognized this and began a movement that called for abolishment of foot binding.

( )
  CathyChou | Mar 11, 2022 |
Well-written and interesting but the foot binding was awful. It gave me an idea of what the life was like, though. ( )
  Wren73 | Mar 4, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 413 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lisa Seeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ridder, SusanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Song, JanetNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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Lily is haunted by memories--of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness. In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu ("women's writing"). They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become "old sames" at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, 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 lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

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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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