Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (2005, 258 pages)

Please leave a Comment if you have seen the Movie
how does it live up to your expectations?

Last month I read and really enjoyed Lisa See's most recent book, Shanghai Girls.  Shanghai Girls is a historical novel set in Shanghai and California, starting in the 1930s and ending in the 1950s.   As soon as I finished Shanghai Girls I added Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (set in China in the 19th century) and Peony in Love  (set in the 17th century) to my to be read list.   I was really happy when I saw hardback editions of both of these books for sale for 85 percent off the list price.    I decided I would read them in the order Lisa See wrote them.

The narrator of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is Lilly, in her 80s at the time she tells the story.   The second important person in the novel is Snow Flower.   The novel is a beautifully told story of the relationship of these two women.   I knew that marriages were arranged by professional matchmakers in this era but I did not know that matchmakers also arranged what are meant to be life time friendships between women, normally starting about the time of foot binding, about 8 or so.   The two women bound together are called "old sames".   This book is the story of the life long relationship of Lilly and her old same Snow Flower.   

Central to the book's plot and themes is the practice of foot  binding, which begins when a girl is about 8, takes up to six months to complete (all the bones in the toes have to be broken) and in the process killed  ten percent of the girls who under went it. The purpose of foot binding is to make the girls more attractive as marriage partners and as submissive daughter in laws.   Lower class girls (called "big feet girls) do not get their feet bound.   The process is horribly painful and is described in  in a fashion that made  me cringe.   It leaves those who feet are bound near half cripples for the rest of their lives.    The novel lets us see the very degrading way in which women were treated in China in this period.   A woman who gave birth only to female children was considered worthless.   In one very brutal scene the husband of Snow Flower beats her so severely that she miscarries.   He justifies his action after the fact by saying the child would probably have been a girl.   The saddest part of this is that no one including his wife sees any problems with his actions.

Just like in Shanghai Girls a lot of things happen to the central characters, most of them bad.   I learned a lot about life in China in the 19th century.   It made me see how foot binding was a  central element in the life of Chinese women.   This practice continued well into the 20th century.    

Snow Flower and The Secret  Fan is a very good historical novel.   It lets the reader see and feel what it might have been like to live in 19th century China.    It is just a bit predictable that something bad is going to happen soon in the novel but I could not predict what the bad event would be.   Unlike in  Shanghai  Girls there is closure in this book.    This novel and two of her others are currently being made into movies.  

I enjoyed this book a lot.   I was interested in seeing what would happen to the characters,   I learned a good bit about life in China and I am for sure glad my three daughters will not have to have their feet bound!-   I will read another of Lisa See's novels, Peony in Love  soon.    

Mel u


Suko said...

Mel, I have eagerly awaited your review of Snow Flower. I read it a few years ago, and what really stood out for me was the concept of "old sames" and, of course, the hard-to-read but engrossing descriptions of the foot-binding process, both highlighted in your review. It will be great to go see this as a movie. I think it will be quite beautiful.

Thanks for your wonderful review of Snow Flower. I may need to read Peony in Love one of these days.

Michelle (su[shu]) said...

I wasn't too interested in reading Shanghai Girls, but this is one book by Lisa See that I'm more interested in. I didn't know that her novels were going to be made into movies though. Might be good to keep a lookout for them.

Hannah Stoneham said...

This sounds excellent. I also did not realise that there wa any element of arranged friendships. Thhis book sounds like there is a powerful sense of time and place - thanks for recommending


Emily H. said...

Glad you liked this book. I found it absolutely fascinating and loved the story of the friendship. I didn't think Peony in Love was quite as good, but it is definitely worth the read. I'll be interested to learn your take on it. I read one of her contemporary crime novels and didn't really care for it, but crime genres are not my cup of tea. I can't wait to read Shanghai Girls.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I loved this book, so I am always happy to read other favorable reviews; great job

Suko said...

(P.S. I hope you will stop by my blog, Mel. I have a worldwide giveaway for two books which I think you'd enjoy.)

Mel u said...

Suko-I am also looking forward to the movies of her books-thanks as always

Michelle-I would be very curious to see your reaction to her work-

Hannah Stoneham-thank you for your comments-I was also unfamilar with the concept of "old sames"-

Emily-I cannot decide if I like Snow Flower or Shanghai Girls better-I will sort of try to make an ranking of her 3 historical works once I finish Peony in Love-I will probably not read her other novels this year

Diane-thanks as always

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Great review. I actually enjoyed both of these books as well as Peony in Love.

ds said...

Talk about synchronicity! I just read both Snowflower... and Peony in Love as background for Shanghai Girls, which I hope to review soon. Lisa See is a very interesting writer, and I learned a lot from those two novels, as I anticipate doing with the third. Great review, as always, mel!

Jenners said...

I love that we read and reviewed this at about the same time. I felt the same way you did about the footbinding. I had no idea how horrible and brutal it was. I'm really excited to read the rest of her books ... and I could totally see this as a movie -- though how they would show the footbinding I have no idea.

Mel u said...

Diane-thanks very much as always-

ds-I guess we can look forward to the movies of her three big books now!

Jenners-yes the footbinding would be hard to watch on film-it is always great when you find others like and write about the same books you do-

Anonymous said...

Snow Flower is on my list to read, so thanks for such a nice and enticing review! Have you read Gail Tsukiyama? I love all of her books.

Mel u said...

Jeannie-I have read Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama-set in Japan from 1938 to 1965-a good and pleasant to read book -thanks for visiting my blog and I also follow you now

1morechapter said...

One of my very favorite books. I also enjoyed Shanghai Girls, but to a lesser extent. Looking forward to everything else Lisa See puts out!

Mel u said...

onemorechapter-I like all of Lisa See's work also-thanks very much for your visit and comment