Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is Lisa See’s most well known novel, the subject of a movie, and a fascinating tale of historic fiction. Lily and Snow Flower are of the Yao ethnicity. As children, their families arrange for them to be "laotongs", life long friends. It is a serious commitment, one that will eventually be tested by betrayal and redemption. Snow Flower is from a higher class than Lily, but fortune and a formidable mother will reverse their stations. Lily’s mother sees the potential in her daughter to make a good match and ruthlessly pursues that goal, binding her feet into the tinniest lotus feet possible. See gives lots of histori-cal detail, showing what a woman’s lot would be as she explains the painful procedure for foot binding, the festivals, the class structure, and the subservience to men required of all women. The fan from the title is part of the story too, women would write in their secret language, nu shu, upon their fans. Lily’s mother is correct, she is able to make a brilliant match, becoming Lady Lu, and marrying into a household that will bring another great character into the story, her mother-in-law (a very perceptive woman). The stations of the two women reverses, Lily goes from a moderate household into one of wealth while Snow Flower’s upper class family falls on hard times and she is married off to a brutal butcher. They have eventful lives that make for a good story. At its heart this book is an exploration of the past and the story of the bonds of friendship between two women. A lovely book.— Deon Stonehouse
Lily is haunted by memories–of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness.
In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu (“women’s writing”). Some girls were paired with laotongs, “old sames,” in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.
With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become “old sames” at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, 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 lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a brilliantly realistic journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. With the period detail and deep resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.
About the Author
Lisa See is the author of Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year. She lives in Los Angeles.
“Powerfully alive, unfolding like a waking dream, haunting, magical, and absolutely impossible to forget.”
–The Boston Globe
“Both heartbreaking and heartbreakingly lovely . . . immerses the reader in an unimagined world . . . The characters and their surroundings come vibrantly alive.”
–The Denver Post
“A provocative and affecting portrait.”
“A marvel of imagination . . . so mesmerizing the pages float away and the story remains clearly before us from beginning to end.”
–Amy Tan, author of Saving Fish from Drowning
“Riveting . . . a story that informs as it charms.”
–The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Extraordinary . . . breathtaking.”
“Magical, haunting fiction. Beautiful.”
–Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Fifth Book of Peace
“[See’s] best book yet . . . a beautifully drawn portrait of female friendship and power.”
–The Seattle Times
“An engrossing and completely convincing portrayal of a woman shaped by suffering forced upon her from her earliest years, and of the friendship that helps her to survive.”
–Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha