REVIEW: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Dear Ms See,
I thought about getting this in ebook form then pondered about it in the bookstore before finally breaking down and buying it. I enjoyed the story and your research but I never could get past the feeling that I was reading a book in order to do a book report.
This isn’t a romance novel. It’s more a historical novel about the lifelong friendship of two women born in a remote province in China in 1820. Lily and Snow Flower are matched as laotongs or “old sames” at the age of seven, shortly before their foot binding begins. Laotongs weren’t just friends, they were best friends for life in a relationship that is closer than that between husband and wife or parents and children. The two women progress through life together, sharing their joys, sorrows and every day lives until a series of misunderstandings and misinterpretations almost destroys their relationship.
Told in first person by Lily, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan shows the hard life of even privileged women in 19th century China. They are born into families who basically see them as worthless from the moment they’re born. They must first obey their parents, then their in-laws and husbands and finally, in old age, their sons, should they be blessed enough to have them. That is the only way of showing their worth, to bear many sons to carry on their husband’s family line and as few daughters as possible.
You’ve done your research and incorporate it well. I was fascinated to learn about the daily, seasonal and life milestones of these women. It also makes me truly thankful not to have been born into a society that so denigrates its females. The story also shows that we are hurt most by the ones we love the most. What it didn’t provide as much of was a deeply emotional investment in the characters. I was interested, I wanted to find out what happened next but I didn’t shed any tears. In fact, I felt a little detached. It’s a good book if you want to learn about the culture and society but it’s not a heart tugging one. B for you.