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"). Some girls were paired with laotongs, "old sames," in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. 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.
See's engrossing novel set in remote 19th-century China details the deeply affecting story of lifelong, intimate friends (laotong, or "old sames") Lily and Snow Flower, their imprisonment by rigid codes of conduct for women and their betrayal by pride and love. While granting immediacy to Lily's voice, See (Flower Net) adroitly transmits historical background in graceful prose. Her in-depth research into women's ceremonies and duties in China's rural interior brings fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women's inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that informed daily life. Beginning with a detailed and heartbreaking description of Lily and her sisters' foot binding ("Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace"), the story widens to a vivid portrait of family and village life. Most impressive is See's incorporation of nu shu, a secret written phonetic code among women-here between Lily and Snow Flower-that dates back 1,000 years in the southwestern Hunan province ("My writing is soaked with the tears of my heart,/ An invisible rebellion that no man can see"). As both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle, this novel has bestseller potential and should become a reading group favorite as well. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. Author tour. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
Showing 1-6 of the 6 most recent reviews
1 . A gem of a book
Posted June 20, 2011 by Amy , Nan.This is a very interesting book. The foot binding details grossed me out, but it was only a small part of the book (the details). I suggest to you to read the reviews before me. They are well written and how I feel about the book. No sense in repeating it again. If you buy this book you won't be disappointed. I have never read anything by Lisa See, but will check out her other books.
2 . Enjoyable and Very Emotional
Posted May 26, 2010 by Shellie , Westminster, COThis is a beautiful book, written with a ton of emotion. I loved it.
3 . A beautiful story of another time and place
Posted February 23, 2010 by Peg , Vancouver, WAI'm so glad that the reviewers before me gave this book five stars. They were really right on with their opinions. I enjoyed reading this book very much. It took me to a time and place that I've never known about. The author really got into the souls of the characters. I had heard about the tradition of binding women's feet, but had no idea how it was really done. This book is a real eye opener, and truly kept me reading all day and night.
4 . Fabulous story
Posted September 04, 2009 by Helen , British Columbia, CanadaThis is truly one of the best books that i have ever read. A beautifully told story that keeps you interested and involved with the characters until the very end. I highly recommend it.
5 . Amazingly Written
Posted December 30, 2008 by Austin :] , USAThe story is perfect in every aspect. There is love, death, danger, adventure and friendship in the book. Its so interesting to read and it is so beautifully written that it kept me hooked on book. I have reread it 4 times.
6 . Worth Every Page
Posted February 06, 2008 by scarlett , West Hills, CAA wonderful look into the lives of women caught in a time of tremendous change. The book shows the transition of oppressive foot binding era to a more modern time all from the unique point of view of women. A fairly short book but worth every page.
February 20, 2006
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Excerpt from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
My name is Lily. I came into this world on the fifth day of the six month of the third year of Emperor Daoguang ' s reign. Puwei, my home village, is in Yongming County, the county of Everlasting Brightness. Most people who live here are descended from the Yao ethnic tribe. From the storytellers who visited Puwei when I was a girl, I learned that the Yao first arrived in this area twelve hundred years ago during the Tang dynasty, but most families came a century later, when they fled the Mongol armies who invaded the north. Although the people of our region have never been rich, we have rarely been so poor that women had to work in the fields.
We were members of the Yi family line, one of the original Yao clans and the most common in the district. My father and uncle leased seven mou of land from a rich landowner who lived in the far west of the province. They cultivated that land with rice, cotton, taro, and kitchen crops. My family home was typical in the sense that it had two stories and faced south. A room upstairs was designated for women ' s gathering and for unmarried girls to sleep. Rooms for each family unit and a special room for our animals flanked the downstairs main room, where baskets filled with eggs or oranges and strings of drying chilies hung from the central beam to keep them safe from mice, chickens, or a roaming pig. We had a table and stools against one wall. A hearth where Mama and Aunt did the cooking occupied a corner on the opposite wall. We did not have windows in our main room, so we kept open the door to the alley outside our house for light and air in the warm months. The rest of our rooms were small, our floor was hard-packed earth, and, as I said, our animals lived with us.
I ' ve never thought much about whether I was happy or if I had fun as a child. I was a so-so girl who lived with a so-so family in a so-so village. I didn ' t know that there might be another way to live, and I didn ' t worry about it either. But I remember the day I began to notice and think about what was around me. I had just turned five and felt as though I had crossed a big threshold. I woke up before dawn with something like a tickle in my brain. That bit of irritation made me alert to everything I saw and experienced that day.
I lay between Elder Sister and Third Sister. I glanced across the room to my cousin ' s bed. Beautiful Moon, who was my age, hadn ' t woken up yet, so I stayed still, waiting for my sisters to stir. I faced Elder Sister, who was four years older than I. Although we slept in the same bed, I didn ' t get to know her well until I had my feet bound and joined the women ' s chamber myself. I was glad I wasn ' t looking in Third Sister ' s direction. I always told myself that since she was a year younger she was too insignificant to think about. I don ' t think my sisters adored me either, but the indifference we showed one another was just a face we put on to mask our true desires. We each wanted Mama to notice us. We each vied for Baba ' s attention. We each hoped we would spend time every day with Elder Brother, since as the first son he was the most precious person in our family. I did not feel that kind of jealousy with Beautiful Moon. We were good friends and happy that our lives would be linked together until we both married out.