Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, an “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she has written a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. 

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together they endure the agony of foot binding and reflect upon their arranged marriages, their loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace in their friendship, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their relationship suddenly threatens to tear apart.


I enjoyed this book from start to finish. It is a well researched historical fiction novel about 19th Century China. I liked reading about the customs that governed female relationships, even if some of them (foot binding! ouch!) seemed totally barbaric to me. I thought the idea of Nu Shu, or the secret language of women, was really intriguing, as well as the idea of laotong

Lily and Snow Flower's laotong relationship was really fascinating to read about, particularly since their relationship basically took a 180. Lily was originally the one in a lower position, but through marriage becomes someone of great importance. Snow Flower started out as the one in the higher position, but in the end falls from grace. Watching these two women navigate their fates, while still trying to hold on to each other was at times emotional. Each stage of life brought with it new adventures and challenges. 

The narrative is well written, including a lot of rich historical detail, without sounding like a textbook. Lee weaves the story of these two women together beautifully. It is a book that I would not hesitant to recommend to my female friends. There are so many things in it that are universal to the female experience, even though the story takes place centuries ago and in a culture vastly different from my own. I'm glad I listened to my mom and read it. :)  

2015 Reading Challenge: A book your mom loves

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