In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, an "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 written 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 the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together they endure the agony of footbinding and reflect upon their arranged marriages, their loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace in their friendship, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their relationship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an engrossing and interesting story of women's friendships set in rural China in the 1800's. It is an excellent, well-written novel and is fascinating on so many levels. Lily, the main character and the narrator of the novel is in her eighties (which is exceptionally long lived during the 19th Century) and is looking back on her life. She shares the stories of her foot binding, women's secret writing, and the various friendships that she experienced.
Lily starts out as a young girl from a poor family who has "beautiful" feet and it is decided when they are bound they might become perfect lilies and thus secure a marriage of high standing. She also finds out that she will be getting a laotong or "old same" - a special contractual friendship with a girl in a higher family- named Snow Flower which will help her family over time as well. This novel chronicles Lily and Snow Flower's lives and the messages they write on their secret fan. It transports you to a world we know nothing about. It is a book about the depth of their friendship, deceits, strengths and it is quite fascinating to read about a society and entire culture so different from our own.
It takes you on an emotional roller coaster and culminates with peace, understanding and acceptance in the end. If you have not yet read it, I would recommend doing so.
Rating 4 1/2 out of 5