Friday, January 30, 2009

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, or “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 has written 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 the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. They both endure the agony of footbinding and together 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.

That would be the description on the back cover of See’s novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. After reading this description and recently reading the young adult novel, Ties That Break, Ties That Bind, I knew that I had found a topic that was intriguing to me and I had to add this book to my collection! The first young adult novel mentioned is the one that brought forth my interest in the old tradition of footbinding (as you may see from my discussion in that review). Lily, the narrator of this novel, shares her own painful experiences (in great detail) of her footbinding. She talks about the old Chinese traditions of the process of arranged marriages, of the almost forgotten secret language of women (nu shu), and of the precious laotong relationship. And, most importantly, though women at this time were considered weak and worthless, Lily’s story shows just how strong and important women really were.

One little detail in See’s writing, though it played a much larger role in the story, was the Chinese character that stands for a mother’s love. One part of the character was “pain”; the other “love.” Being a daughter and now a mother of two, I myself can relate to this particular Chinese character. BUT, reading this story, knowing that many women can relate to such painful motherly memories, I found this alone to be an important part of the story. A mother’s love is a very rewarding love, but it can also be a love that brings so much pain, one that no one else knows and shares unless she is a mother herself.

See did her research on this novel. She does a fabulous job of bringing the reader a piece of this long-lost past. And, for me, she helped me to better understand some of these traditions that I previously had known little about and only had negative views of (i.e., footbinding, arranged marriages, etc.). She opened my eyes a little bit more with her work of fiction and I thank her for that!

Looking for more reviews?


  1. I'm glad you liked the book! Thanks for the link!

  2. You are welcome for the link!! And, I agree about the article!!


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