Laotong: type of relationship within the Chinese culture that bonded two girls together for eternity as kindred sisters. Lisa See’s novel, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”, takes us through the journey of 19th- century Chine in which girls had their feet found, meaning crushing their bones to the size of lily flowers. This ritual was considered beauty for a women and a thrilling sensation for men to look at. Staring the binding at the age of six and excruciating painful process that took two years to complete, Lily tells her story as an eighty year old woman.
Lily was the second daughter to a poor farming family, but later encounters the privilege to be married out to a wealthy family in the village of Tongkou. Lily was married out to a wealthy noble man, whom she might have loved. But Lily had no bigger love other than her laotong, sworn sister, Snow Flower. The two were matched together at the age of seven, when together they promised each other, through a contract that they would always be laotong. Both endured the agony of footbinding, married out and shared their most inner thoughts and loving ways of motherhood.
Lisa See writes delicately, telling the life of these two remarkable girls on their journey to pleasing their husbands, and mother in laws. Love and Friendship keep Snow Flower’s and Lily’s spirits alive when they are not together. Once married out, they didn’t see each other as often as they would have loved to, but their thoughts were jotted down in a silk fan, which included their whole journey together written in nu shu-secret writing for women.
Lily and Snow Flower become “old same”, perfect match. Even though Snow Flower came from a higher family , Snow Flower was married out to a butcher, her first son was weak, and her second passed away. Her husband beats her and her mother in law was cruel. Hoping sympathy from her laotong, Snow Flower gets criticism and “just keep trying” in return. As Snow Flower arouses new friends, Lily finds this as betrayal; therefore Lily stops any communication with Snow Flower, leaving her devastated, and empty.
Even though Lily and Snow Flower experienced happiness, tragedies, and different events, Lily felt betrayed by her laotong so Lily keeps her distance and stops writing back. As Snow Flower’s death approaches Lily goes to Snow Flower and rejoins her, later discovering that Snow Flower did not become a sworn sister, like Lily thought, therefore there was no betrayal. As and eighty year old, Lily remembers Snow Flower. Trying to condemn her mistake Lily watches over Snow Flower’s children, as much as she can like she promised Snow Flower on her death bed.
Lily calls out to Snow Flower even after she is dead. “But if the dead continue to have the needs and desire of the living, then I’m reaching out to Snow Flower…. Please hear my words. Please forgive me. ” Snow Flower and the Secret Fan keeps the story plot alive, maintaining the theme of love and friendship, always feeling like you are reading Lily’s personal diary. Reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See does a remarkable job of taking you back in time to your childhood friends. I wonder if Lisa See wrote Snow Flower and the Secret Fan thinking of a close friend as well.
Also, I would have loved if somewhere in the book, an entry or a piece of writing from Snow Flower was discovered so we can learn more about her own inner thoughts. In my opinion, this book is full of perfection. Throughout the book I recalled my sister. The bond that we share was very similar to the one of these “mandarin ducks”. What if Snow Flower’s father had not taken the pipe? Would she and Lily still be matched as soul sisters? Lisa See’s style of writing is a master piece in this book. Like The Washington Post Book World reviewed, “ A triumph on every level, a beautiful, heartbreaking story. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan fascinated me.
I recommend this book for the soul that understands what it feels like to love someone as much as you love yourself. Filled with different emotions that make you feel and experience the different obstacles that are brought upon Lily and Snow Flower. It is defiantly a love story. However, it is more than that. It involves friendship, kindness, understanding, and tragedy all in one read. “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is fascinating. ”- The Indianapolis Star.
Courtney from Study Moose
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