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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Snowflower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See (review)

Genre:                 Novel, Historical Fiction

Year:                    2005

Pages:                 253

Publisher           Random House, Inc

Preceded by:      Dragon Bones

Followed by:       Peony in Love

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.

"For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me — as a girl and later as a woman — to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life."

"When I knew I couldn't suffer another moment of pain, and tears fell on my bloody bindings, my mother spoke softly into my ear, encouraging me to go one more hour, one more day, one more week, reminding me of the rewards I would have if I carried on a little longer. In this way, she taught me how to endure — not just the physical trials of footbinding and childbearing but the more torturous pain of the heart, mind, and soul."

"Anyone who says that women do not have influence in men's decisions makes a vast and stupid mistake."

I wasn't able to find a trailer for the book, so instead check out this trailer for it's movie adaptation coming up this Summer!! :) I am actually very excited about this release, because one of my favorite Korean actresses (Jeon Ji Hyun) got one of the lead roles!!

Snow Flower and The Secret Fan is definitely one of my favorite historical fiction novels. I'm big on Asian culture and history, so each time I have a chance to read a book related to Asia (history, culture, lifestyle), I'm always very excited. 
I had the pleasure of reading this book last year and it made a HUGE impression on me. Unfortunately at that time I didn't have a book blog to rave about it. Now that I have one, I figured - why not? It's a great, beautifully written book, I think more people should know about it! Especially since there is a movie adaptation coming up soon! 
So let's talk historical fiction and Chinese culture today. Let's talk friendship and love. Let's talk shocking and mesmerizing!

This absorbing and fascinating novel takes place in the XIXth century China, in times of foot binding practice, when girl's worth was based solely on the size of her feet (the smaller, the better). These were very hard times for women, they were kept secluded, they had no rights, no voice. Their only purpose in life was to marry well, securing the position of their families. But to be able to marry well (or to marry at all) they were forced to undergo an excruciating and horrific foot binding process. It could either go well, resulting in an irreversible disfigurement. Or, in most cases, it could go wrong, resulting in a life-long disability or death. 
The process of foot binding was very gruesome and sickening, I cringed while reading the passages describing it. I felt deeply sorry for the women of 19th century China. At the same time I feel I learned a lot from this novel, it broadened my perspective in many ways. It made me reflect upon the lives of Chinese women back then, as well as my own in the modern times. This book is a real eye-opener. 

All that mentioned above is a background to an incredible tale of friendship between two Chinese girls, matched to be each other's "lao tong's" (old sames). They grow up together, build a life-long strong friendship filled with trust and love. They paint letters on the fan, embroider messages on the handkerchiefs. They share their stories, their struggles, fears, hopes and accomplishments. 

Lise See did a really great job with this novel. It's beautifully written, evocative, captivating. The characters are portrayed so well, that we feel like we almost know these women and men, we feel for them and get emotionally attached to them. I found the story deeply disturbing, but also very enthralling and touching.

I highly recommend it, it's worth picking up.


Ing said...

Hi Evie - wonderful review. I had not seen or heard about this book before. After reading your review this is definitely a book I'd love to check out.

The movie trailer looks great. I'll have to lookout for this movie too. You have a beautiful blog. :)

Deborah Lawrenson said...

This brought childhood memories back - when I was young I lived in Peking (as it was then) and used to see frail elderly ladies with bound feet. My Chinese amah told me terrible stories of how their feet were first bound with glass.
I must read this book now. Good review.

Found you on BookBlogs, and now following.

NaKesha said...

The book and the movie both look good! I will have to check them out. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm following you now!

Blodeuedd said...

I have head of this one and her other books, but I am yet to read one of them. But I sure want to one day

Badass Bookie said...

A 5 star review! I'm love history and Asia culture is really interesting! For a girl to be judged on the size of her feet is quite something! I'll defenitely be picking this one up sometime!

Jolene and Family said...

I haven't read a book filled with asian culture, but am intrigued.

~Enamored Soul~ said...

I have read this book and absolutely adore it. There is lyrical prose, and the way Lily and Snow Flower approach their friendship, of never having breathed the same air as one another and yet so intimately acquainted with each other and forming such a beautiful bond, is absolutely fantastic. Thank you for your amazing review, and for sharing your thoughts with us! :)

GFC Follower: ~Enamored Soul~
Email: Enamoredsoul(at)gmail(dot)com
Twitter: @inluvwithbookz

JK17 said...

WOW! a 5 star review! You make me want it to read it! maybe I should get this! Haha! But honestly, I think you're review is great and I think I'll give it a try!

Margaret said...

I haven't read this one yet but it sounds really good!

Janinay said...

I have Lisa See's Peony in Love and I loved it. :D

jennybobenny said...

Reminds me of Chinese Cinderella! Such a great book.

Krystal said...

I love Asian culture. This book is definitely one that I would find intriguing. As a woman, I can't imagine living without rights and being judged by my footsize.

aurora M. said...

I know a lot of women that would love to read this one! Thanks for the great review.

therainhouse said...

I saw the stills of the movie.

Li Bingbing and Jeon Ji-Hyun look gorgeous!

Allison said...

Great review. This is a book I've been looking forward to reading ever since I heard the movie was coming out. I still haven't gotten to it, but it's at the top of my TBR pile.

Stephanie said...

I had never heard of this book until the movie trailers came out, but I think it sounds really good!

Munnaza said...

One of my best friends recommended this book to me years ago, but she never told me what it was about, so I never felt inclined to read it. Your review however makes me want to pick it up immediately. Though the binding stuff I don't think I'd be able to stomach, and I don't know if I can handle any of the disturbing stuff, I'm willing to give it a shot for the touching story you speak so highly about. Thank you for this review.

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