Tessa Bright Wildsmith
“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” is an intriguing book. It is filled with situations that are hard to imagine because they were so foreign to my modern mind.
We are introduced to Lily, a seven-year-old girl living in nineteenth-century China. When we first meet Lily, she is young and innocent and doesn’t understand the workings of the world she lives in. She knows her footbinding will begin soon, but doesn’t understand how much of her future life depends on this process.
It is decided that Lily should be paired with a laotong, an “old same,” or lifelong friend. Lily’s laotong is a girl named Snow Flower. The girls are not only the same age, but were born on the same day, essentially making them “old sames.”
When the girls begin the agony of footbinding, they won’t be allowed to leave the upstairs of their homes for a very long time. They send messages, and share their dreams and hopes, written on a fan that is messaged between the girl’s homes.
The story follows Lily and Snow Flower’s friendship from seven years old through their entire lives - weddings, childbirth, grandchildren and more. Their lives go in unexpected directions, and they are separated for long periods of time, but they are laotongs, and no amount of time or distance can make them forget the other.
“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” is a powerful story of lasting friendship and female bonds that can never be broken.
The facts about footbinding make this story very interesting. I had heard of footbinding, but I didn’t fully appreciate how much of a girl’s life depended on the success of the binding. A Chinese girl’s class and worth are all dependent upon how small her feet are when the binding is complete. If the binding goes well, she will be married off to a wealthy family and live a comfortable life. If it goes badly, the girl can either die, or be considered worthless.
Another part of the book that added to its interest and was new to me was nu shu, a secret language Chinese women developed to write and speak to each other without the influence of men. I found this incredibly interesting. In a culture where women are considered worthless and have no say, they found a way to communicate and still be independent. It was a defiance that only they knew about. Lisa See did a wonderful job of painting the details of an ancient culture.
If you’re looking for a mystery to solve or unexpected twists in a story, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” isn’t that book. It is however, a beautifully written story with interesting characters who are living life in a culture so foreign to our modern world that you find yourself intrigued and drawn into their ancient land.
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