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Reviews of Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See

Lady Tan's Circle of Women

A Novel

by Lisa See

Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See X
Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2023, 368 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 11, 2024, 368 pages

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Book Summary

The latest historical novel from New York Times bestselling author Lisa See, inspired by the true story of a woman physician from 15th-century China - perfect for fans of See's classic Snowflower and the Secret Fan and The Island of Sea Women.

According to Confucius, "an educated woman is a worthless woman," but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient.

From a young age, Yunxian learns about women's illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other's joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom.

But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, pluck instruments, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights.

How might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions, go on to treat women and girls from every level of society, and lead a life of such importance that many of her remedies are still used five centuries later? How might the power of friendship support or complicate these efforts? Lady Tan's Circle of Women is a captivating story of women helping other women. It is also a triumphant reimagining of the life of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.

Coming soon.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. The opening of this novel begins with a preface which includes the line "My cousin has excelled at treating women because she has shared in the losses and joys of what it means to be a female on this earth." How does this set up the novel and what is to come for Yunxian? After reading the novel, what does it mean to be a "female on this earth?"
  2. How does the death of Respectful Lady shape Yunxian? What lessons from Respectful Lady does Yunxian carry with her? When Respectful Lady is near her end, she mutters: "To live is to suffer." How is this a warning for Yunxian early in the novel?
  3. Grandfather Tan and Grandmother Ru have very different ideas about childbirth. Who do you agree with, and why? Although 500 years have passed since the ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Katie Couric Media
Lady Tan's Circle of Women has everything you could want in a dramatic tale of female friendship.

Washington Post
Despite the inordinate limits placed on women, See allows their strengths to dominate their stories

Booklist (starred review)
Based on the writings of an historical Ming dynasty female physician, See's accomplished novel immerses readers in a fascinating life lived within a fascinating culture.

Kirkus Reviews
Although the book's pace can sometimes slow, it's packed with historical detail...Women's friendships in a world where they have little freedom shape a quietly moving book

Publisher's Weekly
Though the pacing can feel slow and the outcome a tad predictable, See adds intrigue with a side plot involving a mysterious death, along with notable depictions of footbinding and the intricacies of Chinese medicine. See's fans will find much to enjoy.

Reader Reviews

Bookworm Becky

Phenomenal!
Doctress, Ming Dynasty, heritage… A tale loosely based on Lady Tan Yunxian, circa 1469. Tan Yunxian’s circle of women include Grandmother Ru, a doctor to women; Meiling, her friend who is in-training to be a midwife; Poppy, her maid; Miss Zhao,...   Read More
BuffaloGirlKS

Exotic, Exquisite, Exultant
Based on the life of 14th century female Chinese physician, Tan Yunxian, Lisa See's latest novel provides an intimate behind the walls look at the lives of upper-class women during China's Ming Dynasty. After her mother's death, eight-year-old ...   Read More

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