Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Lisa See

Posted 27 April, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 17 Comments


Title: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Author: Lisa See
Date Finished: April 25, 2008
Yearly Count: 22
Pages: 258
Rating: 3.5/5

When Lily is seven years old, a diviner comes to visit her household and realizes how perfect her feet are–they will make perfect lilies when bound and will be the source of great fortune in her life. On his next visit he brings a matchmaker–not to find a husband–but rather a laotong, a contractual friendship with a “old same” which will last a lifetime and be more powerful and important than perhaps even her marriage. Her “old same” laotong is to be a wealthy and refined girl of the same age, Snow Flower.

Lily and Snow Flower become fast friends, despite the many differences between them–especially Snow Flower’s higher social status. When they are together their bond is strong even in the most intimate ways. When they are apart, they write messages back to one another on a fan in the secret language of women–nu shu. The story follows the joys and pains of their lives through marriage and childbirth, but a terrible misunderstanding threatens to end their sacred friendship. This story is about love, happiness, friendship, sorrow, and forgiveness.

Alright–down to the nitty gritty. :) The story is told from Lily’s point of view as an elderly woman. Because the events are happening in hindsight rather than in real time, it felt as though the events were simply glossed over. In 258 pages, Lisa See writes the lives of these women over roughly 50+ years. Plain and simple, I thought the book was too short. This is a beautiful story, but I wasn’t sucked into it mostly because their wasn’t enough there to really pull out the emotion. While I got to know these women and really began to care about them and their relationship, I would liked to have seen a deeper study their lives, emotions, etc. But, maybe this is a cultural thing?

What I really enjoyed about the book was a look into nineteenth-century rural China. The practice of footbinding is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. It amazes me that an act such as this can determine a woman’s worth–if her feet are perfectly bound then she can possibly secure a better marriage. Also, the art of nu shu was also very interesting–this woman’s language was essentially kept secret from men for centuries. There are so many customs and rituals explained in the novel that really brought this novel to life. At the end of my copy there is a narrative of See’s journey and research while writing this book, which in many ways was more interesting than the book itself. I really enjoyed the extras in this book–China has such a rich history that I don’t know very much about.

Do I recommend the book? Yes. Most reviews I have read are very positive–and I liked this book as well, I just wanted more. The story is a strong one, but what I love about reading is when a book can speak to my emotional side and I didn’t get that. I will say, though, when I got to the end I realized that I want to read See’s next book, Peony in Love–so that says something, right?

17 Responses to “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Lisa See”

  1. I have had this book on my tbr list far longer than I’d like. I must get to reading this soon. Thanks for the review!

  2. *Nicola – Read it! It’s pretty short, so it shouldn’t take too long. I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf for a while as well.

    *Stephanie – I’m guessing her second novel is a follow up, which makes me curious about the story–especially since the only love in this one was womanly love. I’d like to see a different side of the culture.

  3. I have read very little about Chinese culture, so this book sounds quite interesting. I like the idea of a language only for women! I have Peony in Love on my TBR list, but should this one be read first?

  4. Hmm, I think I want to read this one. Like Laura, I know very little about Chinese culture, and this would be a good way to learn more. Plus I find the premise very interesting. It’s too bad the book wasn’t well-developed enough to suck you in emotionally, but it still sounds like a worthwhile read.

  5. *Laura – there is a character named Peony in this one–although only briefly mentioned. I thought maybe her new book would be a continuation of this one, but after looking it up on Amazon just now I don’t think they are related. So–I guess you don’t have to read this one first! :)

    *Nymeth – It was a pleasant read, and it is certainly a great look into Chinese culture–especially that involving women.

    *J. Kaye – Well…what’s the point in skirting around my thoughts! ;) I try to be candid but also respectful; sometimes I get a little annoyed when bookbloggers bash a book or an author (even though I feel like I did a little bit of both with A Million Little Pieces–eeks!). Read this one–it is an interesting and relatively quick read. :)

  6. This sounds like an interesting book. A little bit like The Joy Luck Club (a book I absolutely loved!) China is a place I definitely don’t know much about.

  7. I just bought this a few weeks ago, but haven’t gotten to it yet. It does sound like a fascinating read! I’m sorry it let you down a bit.

  8. *Kim – Joy Luck Club, eh? I borrowed that book from the library years ago and I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but my library card ended up getting revoked. :( I think I was a senior in high school. I still haven’t finished that darn book! Anyway, yes…this is a very interesting read!

    *Debi – It was still a good book, I just thought I was going to be in for more of an emotional rollarcoaster (which I LOVE). I think you’ll indeed find this one fascinating! Such a rich culture!

  9. I so want to read this book!! I’ve been eyeing to for a while now. My mother-in-law told me all about foot binding and I was really grossed out. I’m fascinated by all things Asian, particularly Chinese culture My husband is Chinese and I always feel guilty that I don’t know more about it’s culture so I can pass that on to my kids. We always eat yummy food though. Thanks for the review, I’ll have to read this one soon.

  10. *Katherine – It’s a short one–so no point in waiting! It is a great inbetween heavier books, but it still gives you plenty to think about.

    *Natasha – Chinese is hubby’s favorite food. I’m trying to turn him onto sushi, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Oh well! I hope you like this one when you finally get to it. :)

    *D. Chedwick – Yes, great summer reading! Thanks for coming by.

  11. *Heather – Yes, I have a stack of those books too…but hopefully one day!

    *Lisa – I hope you enjoy it! Thanks for visiting.