Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

In 1905, Lily looks back on 80 decades of her life in China. As a child, she was matched with another girl, Snow Flower, in an arranged friendship formal agreement that was to last their entire lives. When they were seven, Lily and Snow Flower had their feet bound. They visited rarely, but wrote to each other often, using nu shu, the secret language of women. They marry, have children, go through famine and war. A misunderstood message caused a deep rift between them and so Lily's tale is heavily tinged with regret.

A story about friendship between women and written with a strong sense of time and place. This has the ingredients I like, but somehow it didn't work for me. I think it's because I didn't warm to either of the central characters. Snow Flower was too perfect and yet also too passive. Normally, I would root for a flawed character like Lily, sympathizing when she made mistakes, but in this case I was apathetic. My strongest reaction was to the descriptions of foot binding - it is very hard to hear about little girls being tortured. Author Lisa See did a credible job, however, of presenting this from within the cultural viewpoint, as a desirable thing. Lily and Snow Flower bound their daughters' feet also.

Another reason I didn't care for this novel may be because I didn't feel that I gained any insights from it. I listened to an audiobook version competently read by Jodi Long. The best part was an essay at the end, read by the author, explaining her research.

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