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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel by…

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel (2005)

by Lisa See

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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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.
( )
1 vote lamotamant | Sep 22, 2016 |
This book made me feel sick. The description of the foot binding. Ugh. It's sickening. Even worse than corsets.

I also found myself becoming frustrated with Lily's constant insistence that she was in the wrong in her actions toward Snow Flower. She was wrong at times, but Snow Flower was also wrong at times. Lily's action in The Letter of Vituperation may be been dreadful, but it was only the final cut in the severing of an already damaged friendship. Snow Flower lied about everything, then when Lily found out about Snow Flower's circumstances, Snow Flower justified her lies because she didn't want Lily to pity her, but if Lily had known about Snow Flower's troubles when they were children, then Lily would have grown used to the idea and been more able to comfort Snow Flower without showing pity. Snow Flower continued to lie to Lily even after they were married. She lied about her husband's abuse of her, her actions with her husband, and even about her health. Lily took refuge in convention whenever she became uncomfortable and didn't know how to act. If she had known the truth of Snow Flower's life when they were younger, she would have been more comfortable in her reactions to Snow Flowers troubles, but she spent years thinking that Snow Flower was rich and more eligible than herself, only to find out in a few moments how bad her friend actually had it. And I am frustrated at how Lily blamed herself for misinterpreting Snow Flower's words on the fan. Any person in the world would have looked at those words and believed what Lily believed. Because of Snow Flower's Dishonesty and Lily's ignorance in how to comfort Snow Flower without making Snow Flower feel she was being pitied, their friendship disintegrated.

This was a heartbreaking story about a friendship full of lies and misunderstandings. In many ways I hate reading stories about such damaged relationships because it's frustrating to watch the mistakes people make in relationships when you want to take them aside and tell them off for hurting their friend, but it also makes me think, and make me consider things I've done in my relationships with my friends that may have hurt them, that I didn't even realize. I wish the story would have had a happier end, but I also can't see how it could have done. There was just too much hurting on both Snow Flower and Lily's parts, for the story to come to a happy ending, though at least Snow Flower apologized to Lily before her death, and at least Lily made some reparation for her actions, to Snow Flower's son and granddaughter. ( )
  NicoleSch | Sep 17, 2016 |
This wasn't as great as it should have been. I agree with other reviewers who state the author missed a chance to show this friendship in better ways. Beautifully written words, though, and wonderful descriptions about China in many years past. ( )
  KnivesBoone | Jul 29, 2016 |
Naslovnica: https://www.vbz.hr/knjiga/see-lisa-snijeznica-i-tajna-lepeza

Katalog KGZ-a: prijateljstvo dviju žena autorica govori o strahotama obreda i dužnosti (kao što je povezivanja stopala) kroz koje su mlade Kineskinje u kineskoj provinciji morale prolaziti da bi bile prihvaćene u društvu i poželjne muškarcima. Gotovo dokumentaristički, roman otkriva put žene u dogovoreni brak i njenom kasnijem podređenom položaju spram muškarca u njegovu domu, koji nikad ne postaje i njen. Realistično i dojmljivo. ( )
  rosenrot | Jul 20, 2016 |
I've really been interested in historical stories more and more as I get older. I was fascinated with this story and what happens to Chinese women back in the 1800's. These women were pretty much raised to become a match for someone so that they will go to that family and pretty much not come back to their own natal family except for certain holidays. They are worthless to their own family because they are a "burden." They learn to take care of a house and have babies and that is their only purpose. The foot binding just sounds absolutely horrible. I can't even imagine going through it.

When I read things like this, I wonder if these practices are still going on. This was a very beautifully written story about two women who are "sames" and how their lives progress from being born until they die. I really enjoyed the story and will probably read more of Lisa See's work. ( )
  MHanover10 | Jul 10, 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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I am what they call in our village "one who has not yet died" -- a widow, eighty years old.
No matter how scared I was of her words, I wanted to cling to those wings and fly away
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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.
Haiku summary

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)

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