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Suzanne Astolfi is reading...

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
by Lisa See

My recently formed book club read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See for our first selection. It was interesting how differently we viewed this book. All of us in the group were glad we weren’t women living in China during that time. And yet, even though women’s suffering was the theme throughout Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I came to, in some ways, envy the deep women friendships that all these women experienced throughout their lives. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a story about love, and all the different types of love that a woman experiences in 19th-century remote China: mother’s love, (teng ai or pain love); sworn sisters, who support and care for each other once an arranged marriage is determined; and laotong love, a deep, life-long bond between two women (in this case between Lily and Snow Flower). The story is revealed through the long life of the main character, Lily. This was a time when foot binding was done on very young girls by their mothers to help secure their daughter’s chance of a marriage to a good family, a time when women were considered inferior and were relegated to an upstairs chamber throughout the day to do handwork, chores, and sing, isolating them from not only the men in the family but also from their community, and where all marriages were prearranged. Because of their isolation, women invented nu shu, a secret writing among women, written on paper, on fans, or embroidered onto silk. Men saw their writing as insignificant and, therefore, paid no attention to it. I highly recommend this book. Lisa See provides a detailed insight into the lives of Chinese women and culture in the 1800’s and yet with its universal themes of women’s dreams and fears, pride and humbleness, devotion and selfishness, we can empathize with these women. It’s a beautiful book.

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