Sunday, May 27, 2007

Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

May 27, 2007

Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan takes place in the early 1800s in China, when girls were foot-bound and lived in upstairs rooms from the age of 6 or 7, in almost total seclusion. Women's lives were dictated by the limitations of their gender, abiding by a strict set of ancient codes which decreed that a woman's only purpose in life was to produce sons, serve their husbands, and respect their mother-in-law. This novel is set in a remote Hunan county, and the women have developed their own secret code, called nu shu, which is based on men's character writing. With nu shu they are able to communicate with one another in an otherwise isolated life. Snow Flower and Lily are bound as "old sames" (soulmates) at age 7 and communicate through infrequent visits and nu shu over the course of the next 30 years. The two develop a friendship that supercedes any other relationship in their lives, keeping their hopes alive in an oppressive society. The book was fascinating in its look at the women's duties, life, and ceremonies in this time and place, as well as in the relationship between Snow Flower and Lily. The sheer torture of foot-binding, the superstitions, sickness, view of girls--all of this was fascinating and written in Lily's lyrical, resolved voice.

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