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REVIEW: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Dear Ms See,

Snow Flower and the Secret FanI 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.


Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Kailana
    Jul 13, 2006 @ 08:34:47

    I think this book sounds interesting. More so because it explains about the lifestyles of these women. I might have to check it out. :)

  2. Anya Bast
    Jul 13, 2006 @ 10:20:17

    Interesting. I’m definitely going to buy this book. Thanks for reviewing it.

  3. Mailyn
    Jul 13, 2006 @ 13:12:10

    The cover is so damn pretty I just want to buy this so I can stare at it! Ugh. I need therapy. LOL.

  4. Marg
    Jul 13, 2006 @ 15:12:33

    This does sound interesting.

  5. May
    Jul 13, 2006 @ 22:36:05

    Jayne, I recently read Alma Alexander’s The Secrets of Jin-Shei. It’s set in a mythical world sort of like China, and it’s also about friendship between women. A beautiful book which you might be interested in.

    I’ve read See’s contemporary novels about Liu Hulan and those had a bit of that detachment issue, but given that Hulan is a detective, it actually works for those books.

  6. Jayne
    Jul 14, 2006 @ 07:08:15

    I hope those of you planning on trying this will enjoy it.

    I’ll be interested to know what people think of two issues.



    1) Snow Flower’s relationship with her husband and 2) how they see Lily and Snow Flower different personalities and whether or not their upbringing influenced them.

  7. Jayne
    Jul 14, 2006 @ 07:10:26

    May, thanks for the suggestion. Is this available as an ebook? Is it a fantasy?

  8. Anya Bast
    Jul 14, 2006 @ 10:19:59

    I ordered it yesterday. It’s on its way to me even now. :)

  9. May
    Jul 14, 2006 @ 19:44:06

    Jayne, The Secrets of Jin-Shei is a print book. I got it from the library in hardcover, but I think it’s been released in paperback already.

  10. Mansion House Florists
    Apr 30, 2008 @ 06:04:22

    foot bindings look and sound very painful! Like the idea of a book thats not always a romantic theme. Life long friedships are hard to come by these days i’m sure this would make a great read. The title snow flower drew me to this title

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