Comment: 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
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.
'See's meticulous research and exquisite language deliver a story that is haunting, powerful, and, at times, almost too painful to bear. Highly recommended.' - Library Journal.
This review was originally published in July 2005, and has been updated for the February 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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