Friday, June 17, 2011
Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
I am late to the game but I finally read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (another Friends of the Library find!) And I'm so glad!
Set in mid-nineteenth-century rural China, This book tells the story of Lily and her sworn best friend forever, Snow Flower. At first Lily is self-conscious of her low standing, and Snow Fower teaches her the finer details of embroidery, manners, and the secret women's writing, while Lily teaches Snow Flower how to draw water from the well and feed the pig. Lily has been matched with Snow Flower due to her perfect feet, which should become perfect "golden lilies" after their binding when she is seven, which will raise her family's standing. What Lily doesn't realize until much, much later is that the reason Snow Flower's family agreed to this match is that their fortunes are on the way down. They remain friends as they get married and have children, though they live in different towns and in increasingly different circumstances. These friendships between women are sacred, expected to be the closest relationships they will ever have (for instance, Lily doesn't ever call her husband by his first name until they have been married for 15 years, and then it's under extenuating circumstances.)
Needless to say, there is eventually a crisis in their friendship. It is heartbreaking and frustrating and beautiful nonetheless. And I learned a lot about the culture and the formality of the society, even in the countryside, that was fascinating.
While I still lived in NYC, I went to an exhibit at The Museum of Sex that was about footbinding. I'm glad I did as I don't know if I otherwise would have understood the complex explanations of the process. I have included one photo here, as most of them are pretty grotesque. So if you want to know more, you'll have to Google it yourself, so I don't gross you out. But it's a wild, bizarre, debilitating practice that I am very glad has gone out of fashion.
I bought this book used at the Friends of the Library sale.