Lily is haunted
by memories of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her
existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow
Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness.
In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu ("women's writing"). Some girls were paired with laotongs, "old sames," in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.
With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become "old sames" at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a brilliantly realistic journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. With the period detail and deep resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.
My name is Lily. I came into this world on the fifth day of the six month of
the third year of Emperor Daoguang's reign. Puwei, my home village, is in
Yongming County, the county of Everlasting Brightness. Most people who live here
are descended from the Yao ethnic tribe. From the storytellers who visited Puwei
when I was a girl, I learned that the Yao first arrived in this area twelve
hundred years ago during the Tang dynasty, but most families came a century
later, when they fled the Mongol armies who invaded the north. Although the
people of our region have never been rich, we have rarely been so poor that
women had to work in the fields.
We were members of the Yi family line, one of the original Yao clans and the most common in the district. My father and uncle leased seven mou of land from a rich landowner who lived in the far west of the province. They cultivated that land with rice, cotton, taro, and kitchen crops. My family ...
The practice of foot binding began around 970 BC.
Bound feet were described as 'lily feet' because they were
considered so beautiful and were symbolic of gentility
The process began for a girl between 3 and 11 years. The four small toes were broken and turned under and bound, then the arches were broken so the foot could be pulled straight with the leg. Overtime the feet would shrink so they could fit in 'lotus shoes' 3 inches long. In the 1600s the ...
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