Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Posted April 20, 2011 by Kara in book review, Kara / 1 Comment

Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret FanSnow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Published by Random House on February 21st, 2006
Genres: adult, historical
Pages: 269
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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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.

Please do me a favor. Do not read this book if you have depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness. It will mess you up. I read it so you don’t have to. And I am somewhat over my depression, but I deal with the anxiety on a daily basis. This book is more tragic than Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet Combined. And I promise that you will be sitting here with your thumb up your butt feeling like your grandma and your dog died all at once. This is what I’m dealing with right now. Well, insomnia too, but that’s an entirely different animal.

I’ve been feeling down in the dumps the last couple of days, and part of the reason is because of this book. I wanted to quit reading it, but it was written so beautifully that I just had to finish it. And it’s an amazing story with vivid imagery, there’s no denying that. It’s just that every darn character was so unlikeable. I didn’t really care what happened to them. They certainly were deep and well-formed, but every single one of the people and traditions and customs in this book are absolutely INSANE. I cannot believe that women put up with this garbage for centuries; Foot binding, being trapped indoors all hours of every day, being only good for bearing children, having to be respectful even if you are beaten, it just never ever stops! I thought Memoirs of a Geisha was bad. And I know most of you have read that. This is at least ten times worse. It was so awful that I am sick to my stomach just thinking about it. How did these women stay sane and not go on a murderous rampage? This book made me angry. Really angry. If I was a crazy person I would start throwing things. Luckily I am not. At least I don’t think so.

This book is a fictional account, of course, but every single custom and tradition used in this novel existed at one time. Remember that. I did a lot of googling. Women really did get treated this way folks. And frankly, I am disgusted. I don’t want to go off on a tangent and get into a discussion about religion, but I will quickly say that histories like these are why I am completely against organized religion. You will find it in every religion; in this case it was Buddhism. Women are looked down upon and treated like crap in Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism as well. And it makes me so angry. I’m stepping off my soapbox now. Just please think about what I am saying.

It’s a great book. But it made me extremely unhappy. It’s truly a heartbreaking story. It’s beautifully  written, I’m just warning you. Prepare yourself for major sadness. Because it is awful.


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