This book was incredibly popular a few years ago and I hadn't read it yet. Sometimes I resist when there is a book everyone is reading but after I read a bad book (see last review) sometimes I have to read something I know will be good! 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan' fit that need. Phew! It was an historical fiction novel which for me, can be the best kind of novel, because you can learn about a whole new place and time that you know nothing about, and I knew nothing about female Chinese culture from the 19th Century so I found it fascinating. Now to the story!
'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan' is told by Lily looking back on her life. We first meet her as a girl when she is 5 and wants her mother's love desperately. We learn that women are not valued in Chinese society and are a burden on families and Lily's family is poor. Then Lily's family is introduced to a matchmaker who thinks that Lily can have a laotong which is an honor and for women can be more important than a good marriage. It is a lifelong friendship with a woman. Laotong translates to "old same" and it means that the two women who are matched will have many things in common, like being born on the same day, having their feet bound on the same day, being from similar families, etc. Lily's laotong is Snow Flower and they write to each other through a secret female-only script known as nu shu. They do all of this writing on their fan and pass it back and forth. Lily and Snow Flower do their foot binding together. I think I found it easier to read about foot binding then to watch a PBS special about it because as painful as it sounded they could tell you what an honor it was to have perfect feet and it put it into a cultural perspective for me. I guess it felt less voyeuristic than watching a special about it on TV somehow if that makes sense. When Lily's feet come out perfectly she is able to marry to a higher position and elevate her role in the county.
As time marches on, we learn of a lie Snow Flower has told to Lily that entangles Lily's entire family and how Lily deals with this. We learn how Lily and Snow Flower take two different paths to dealing with the hard lives women had to lead in 19th Century China. I found all of this fascinating and the narrator did a great job making me feel the story and understand traditions that were foreign to me. If I was to find any fault in the book, it was that Lily often would foreshadow the happenings a little too heavy handedly. As in, "I shouldn't have gone there that day, for it would prove to be a mistake." She did this ALOT. Just let the story unfold. We can know that something bad is going to happen without you slapping our face with it. But seriously, I found the story fascinating, and clearly since it was national bestseller, so did a lot of other people!
(I purchased 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan' at a garage sale.)