Several years ago my brother-in-law suggested that I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I added it to my to-read list which is approximately 400 books long at present. It wasn't until the last few weeks when I fell in love with Lisa See's books Shanghai Sisters and Dreams of Joy, that I knew I would have to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan very, very soon. My friend, who has also recently become a fan of Lisa See, and I conspired together to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan for our neighborhood book club. That would give me an excuse to buy it and bump it up on my to-read-immediately list.
Lily and Snow Flower are just small girls living in nineteenth century China when they are bound together as laotongs or "old sames" by an influential Match Maker. Contractually, they will be closer than best friends for their entire lives. They begin the process of having their feet bound on the same day. Their relationship and love for each other continues to grow as they prepare their dowries together and look forward to marriage. Even following their marriages, the two women will be closer to each other than to anyone else. They love each other intensely, until a misunderstanding drives a bitter and heartbreaking wedge between them.
I already knew Lisa See was a fabulous writer and so I wasn't surprised how fully developed the characters are in the this novel. I likewise was not surprised by the powerful emotions evoked while reading this story. Lisa See is gifted at making the reader care and care deeply. I believe even the most cynical person could not resist becoming emotionally involved in this story.
While I read the sections about the feet binding process, I cringed as I read of the young girl's agony and I imagined my own daughters' perfect feet. How could a mother do this? And yet not do it knowing the consequences? I practically ran to the computer to Google "Foot Binding" and found websites that documented the stories of women who had the feet bound when they were children. You can read more and see pictures of the results of this tradition here and here and many other places on the web.
While the Chinese historical and cultural aspects of this novel are absolutely fascinating, there are many other powerful and still pertinent aspects of human nature within the story that beg to be discussed, such as Mother Love, friendship, loyalty and betrayal.
Originally published in 2005 and intensely popular, I'm sure that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has already been read by many book clubs. I'm definitely looking forward to discussing it with mine. A movie based on the book is releasing in select theaters very soon, so I'm sure we will see another surge of popularity for this novel. It really is fantastic. Get it. Read it. Soon.