Summary and book reviews of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

A Novel

by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2005, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2006, 288 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

A brilliantly realistic journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.

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.

Chapter 1
Milk Years

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Lily endures excruciating pain in order to have her feet bound. What reasons are given for this dangerous practice?

  2. Did See's descriptions of footbinding remind you of any Western traditions?

  3. If some men in 19th-century China knew about nu shu and "old same" friendships, why do you think they allowed these traditions to persist?

  4. Reflecting on her first few decades, Lily seems to think her friendship with Snow Flower brought her more good than harm. Do you agree?

  5. Lily's adherence to social customs can seem controversial to us today. Pick a scene where you would have acted differently. Why?

  6. Lily defies the wishes of her son in order to pair her grandson with Peony. ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. As both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle, this novel has bestseller potential and should become a reading group favorite as well.

Library Journal - Beth E Anderson

See's meticulous research and exquisite language deliver a story that is haunting, powerful, and, at times, almost too painful to bear. Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Taut and vibrant, the story offers a delicately painted view of a sequestered world and provides a richly textured account of how women might understand their own lives. A keenly imagined journey into the women's quarters.

Author Blurb Amy Tan
Lisa See has written her best book yet. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is achingly beautiful, a marvel of imagination of a real and secret world that has only recently disappeared. It is a story so mesmerizing the pages float away and the story remains clearly before us from beginning to end.

Author Blurb Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha
Only the best novelists can do what Lisa See has done, to bring to life not only a character but an entire culture, and a sensibility so strikingly different from our own. This is an engrossing and completely convincing portrayal of a woman shaped by suffering forced upon her from her earliest years, and of the friendship that helps her to survive.

Reader Reviews

Betty Taylor

Such Beautiful Writing...
I had put off reading any of Lisa See's books for a long time. I love reading about the Chinese culture but did not like any of Amy Tan's books. But I finally gave in and started reading Snow Flower. I was immediately grabbed by the beautiful writing...   Read More

Catherine Gray

THE BEAUTY OF MEMORIES AND LOVE
The first time I read this book " Snow Flower and the secret Fan" It brings me right into China. I could feel the pain of the women in isolation in the Women's Chamber. Lily a brave and wonderful woman of authority, so descriptive in ...   Read More

kim

new favorite book
What an incredible story. I couldn't put it down. I enjoyed learning about the Chinese culture in a way that made you feel you were actually there. It is a wonderful book about family relations, but most of all deep long-lasting friendships between...   Read More

A Bookshelf Monstrosity

Arranged marriages, loss, and motherhood in nineteenth-century China
I can't believe I waited so long to read this book. Shame on me. This book was wonderful, lyrical, entertaining - all the makings of a wonderful novel. I was transported to 19th century China as I read the words of Lily and her experiences with ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

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 and high-class.

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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