Yet another amazing novel from Lisa See! Snow Flower and the Secret Fan tells an inspirational and heart warming story of the true bonds of friendship and family. Set in 19th century rural China, two young girls will embark on a life long journey, all of which begins with a few words on a fan. One of these young girls, Lily, comes from a humble farming family who does not expect great things from their second daughter until a matchmaker sees her feet. The matchmaker believes that after her foot binding is complete Lily will have perfect little golden lilies, which will lead to a prosperous marriage and honour for her family. Her laotong Snow Flower comes from a very different life; she is of a family of great wealth and status. The ‘old sames’ form an intimate and a lifelong contract declaring them as friends until death. The girls then go through all of life milestones together, from the painful foot binding years beginning at age 7; through the hair pinning days where they would create their dowries for their upcoming marriages; into the rice and salt days of marriage and childbirth and finally into the sitting quietly years, at least for one of them. Throughout their lives as laotong the girls send a fan between them on which they write messages in nu shu, the secret language of women and tell each other their dreams, their hopes, their accomplishments as well as their sorrows and troubles. The two girls find solace in their friendship, developing a special bond until one day; a misunderstanding threatens to destroy a lifetime of love and their laotong relationship forever.
I absolutely adored this novel by Lisa See! The story was beautifully written, both the narrative as well as the poetry that the girls exchange on their fan and in their letters.
“Two birds in flight – hearts beating as one.
The sun shines upon their wings, drenching them in healing warmth.
The earth spreads below them, all theirs” (p. 112)
The prose creates vivid images in the readers mind and I could almost picture these two young women sitting in their women’s chambers writing to each other wanting nothing more than to be with their laotong, sharing their lives with each other. I think that See did not only write a beautiful story, but that she wrote stunning poetry as well. The characters in this novel were amazingly lifelike and they elicited true, raw emotion throughout the book. I found it to be amazing how See researched this novel as she travelled to these small, rural villages where she spoke to women and families from this era about their lives. She spoke to women much like Lily and Snow Flower, women who had gone through the process of foot binding and who found their husband through a matchmaker. See was able to take these women’s stories and transform them into a wonderful piece of literary art.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Asian culture as this book is filled with information about the Chinese culture in the 19th century as well as to anyone who simply enjoys a fantastic read.