Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. Throwback Thursday is an awesome opportunity to share old favorites as well as older books in our TBR. I love this idea as I’m often distracted by all of the shiny, new books I see every day and don’t make it back to the ones that have been sitting on my shelves.
My pick of the the week is:
Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.
As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared 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 deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
I can’t believe it’s been more than ten years since Snowflower and the Secret Fan has been published! I guess I’m throwing it way, way back. I read it in either 2005 or 2006. To be honest, I can’t recall. It was one of my favorite book club picks from the very first book club I’d ever joined. Though I may not recall every detail, this book has really stayed with me all these years.
The historical and cultural aspects of this novel were absolutely fascinating. The best examples of historical fiction give the reader learning opportunities while entertaining with a great story; learning by osmosis, if you will. The practice of foot-binding – the reasons, the process, the risks are covered in depth. If I’m honest, some of it was difficult for me to read. I can’t imagine the physical agony these young women endured. I really enjoyed reading about the custom of having a Laotong and the secret language women developed so that they could secretly communicate.
The friendship between Lily and Snowflower was beautiful. I was absolutely heartbroken when it was compromised by a misunderstanding. At its essence, this is a story about strong female friendships and bonds, trust, the need for good communication, and the tragedy of wasted years when these things fall apart in a relationship.
I don’t normally reread books but this is one that I’d go back to if I did. I’ve read other books by Lisa See including Peony in Love (5 stars) Shangai Girls (4 stars), and Dreams of Joy (3 stars). I’m looking forward to reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane at some point.
I just learned that this book was adapted for film in 2011. The reviews are mixed so if any of you have seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.