Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a novel that explores the lives of two women growing up in China in the 19th century. Before reading this novel, I was largely unaware with many of the ceremonies that marked coming-of-age, marriage and death in the culture of the villages in this particular part of the world. Moreover, I was completely unaware of the actual foot-binding process that I've always heard much about. The novel was both fascinating and infuriating, but all-in-all a good read.
Snow Flower and Lily are two girls brought together by a matchmaker at the tender age of seven. Because Lily possesses qualities (foot size, birth year, etc), like Snow Flower, that predict her success, Madame Wang matches the two as Old Sames (a term that signifies a bond of friendship resembling marriage). The two document their lives through a secret women's language, nu shu, which consists of characters that hold several different meanings. A silk fan is passed between the two that documents their foot-bindings, marriages, the death of loved ones and the dissonance that drives them into the mountains with no shelter or food. The story is told as Lily reassess her long life and the relationship she had with Snow Flower. Truly heartbreaking, the novel displays the strength of the women in these villages, and the hardness of heart they were forced to develop to survive and prosper.
My thoughts: After reading the novel, I was a little dumbfounded. Let me be clear: I had never heard of a way of life in which women were so disregarded to the point of dehumanization. From the beginning, we understand that women are a curse to the household, a sad acquisition that will hopefully lead to death, before the breathing thing takes anymore resources from the family share. Women's position in society places the processes in life in context. Lily begins by describing her desire to be loved by her mother, which is never satisfied, and remains a strong theme throughout the book because she never really feels loved by anyone except Snow Flower. However, Lily, so caught up in filling her roles as an esteemed woman in a wealthy province, develops the same demeanor she so detested in her mother and ends up neglecting Snow Flower when she needs her most.
There's so much to discuss with this novel and I honestly wish I could flesh it out here better. I definitely recommend the novel for those of you that have considered the title before. I felt that the writing perfectly conveyed the memories of a women with regret looking back on so many years of her life.
Read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan? Please share your thoughts, I'd love to hear!