Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

“Seventy-five years have gone by, and I still remember the feel of the mud between my toes, the rush of water over my feet, the cold against my skin.  Beautiful Moon and I were free in a way that we would never be again.  But I remember something else very distinctly from that day.  From the second I woke up, I had seen my family in new ways and they had filled me with strange emotions  – melancholy, sadness, jealousy, and a sense of injustice about the things that suddenly seemed unfair.  I let the water wash all that away.”

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of those books you savor.  Each word, line, character, and  event is rich with life and beauty tainted by sorrow, pain, and death.  This book is a joy to read.

Inspired by the secret language of women in China, Lisa See builds a story of two women joining hands as small children and growing up together.  She traces their lives through the difficulties of footbinding, to marriage, child-bearing, plagues, war and death.  She traces Lilly as her life improves with age and Snow Flower who withers away.  She incorporates much of Chinese culture, belief, and practices.  If you love historical fiction or just a beautifully written book – Read This!

On a more personal note, this book was very hard to read.  Not due to comprehension or reading level, but because the subject matter is difficult.  This book drove me through a range of emotions.  A vast range of emotions.  I started out feeling frankly selfish.  When I married I did not on any level take my family into consideration.  I never thought or cared what they felt about my husband or how he would impact our lives.  Now, thankfully my family loves him and he them.  But the fact of the matter is, we as modern Americans can be very individualistic.  This is a great strength for us, but it can be a very selfish strength. too.  I also felt great relief and thankfulness that I was not a woman in China at that time.  Footbinding?  Oh man.  And yet, what are we willing to do every day in order to be considered beautiful.  This book will challenge you to examine your own sense of beauty and your beauty habits.

Ultimately, I came away marveling at the vast difference between the modern American culture I live in and the Chinese culture represented in this book.  How different our thoughts, actions, hopes, and dreams.  How free we are to live and be unfettered by cast systems, superstition and broken feet!  And yet, you have to look at yourself and wonder if you are helping or serving anyone with that freedom.  I also found it interesting that despite the cultural differences, men and women are the same the world over.  We love, we cry, we live, and die.  We care about our friends and family.  Yet we can be very blind to their pain and very focused on our own.  Humans are human.  Women are women.  It doesn’t matter if you live in an upstairs room and break your daughter’s feet in the hopes it will get her a good husband, or you live in a three bedroom home with a good man and beautiful trees.  We are all still dreamers, longing for hope, and fighters.

Read and enjoy!