Select one of the keywords
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan    by Lisa See order for
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
by Lisa See
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, CD

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a deeply moving and compelling novel by acclaimed author Lisa See - a natural, gifted storyteller who writes in a straightforward, unpretentious manner. In the ancient Chinese society she portrays, women and daughters are viewed as worthless to their natal families, and as burdens to their married families. Their value to their husbands and in-laws increases with each son they produce, and their identities are formed by the status of their husbands' families.

As a girl being raised in the countryside of China, Lily, the narrator, is kept isolated in a women's chamber for most of her upbringing, learning household skills such as cleaning, serving tea, and embroidery. As young children, Lily and Snow Flower are paired by a matchmaker to be laotongs, lifelong sisters/friends. The two form an intimate friendship, surpassing all other relationships, even with their birth families and husbands. The girls are married off as teenagers, but even dire economic or family circumstances cannot keep the two apart. They maintain their friendship via a secret written women's language called nu shu. The secret nu shu writing and meetings with Snow Flower empower Lily over the years, and the attachment to her lifelong friend helps her endure the harsh realities of family life. 

See also takes the reader on a tour of a little known world by introducing the now forbidden Chinese custom of footbinding, an extremely painful process in which a young girl's feet were bound or wrapped, the arch broken and the toes curled, curtailing growth in order to attain very tiny feet. The smaller the feet turn out, the more beautiful and sensual the girl is considered to be, thereby increasing her social status and marriageability. Footbinding reflects the role of women in this society as a way to keep them at the mercy of males, limiting their ability to walk, and defining their roles as possessions of their husbands and the husbands' families.

Despite its male-oriented societal context, this novel explores the beauty and necessity of female friendships, how the spirit survives, and how friendships are central to women's wellbeing. Acceptance of fate and circumstance is what women were taught in this ancient Chinese world, but See shows that even in this society, women's emotions and desires cannot be suppressed, and that hope can and will endure. See's writing is flawless, the historic setting is fascinating, and the story is riveting, everything one could hope for in a reading experience. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a superb book that should not be missed.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Historical books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews