A good book can sometimes be hard to find, but with eight people with varying tastes and opinions I hope to spice up and add variety to our personal libraries. This book club was created because we all have a love for books. Since location prevents us from actually meeting, this is our outlet. Let's discuss why we did or did not like the books. We will take turns suggesting the book for the month. If you want to read more than that, you can share that with us here too. I hope that this will be an enjoyable thing for everyone and I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say. Happy Reading!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See

In nineteenth - century China, when wives and daughter were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu ("women's writing").  Some girls were paired with laotongs, "old sames," in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives.  They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. 

With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become "old sames" at the tender age of seven.  As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they relfect upon their arranged marriages, loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood.  The tow find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive.  But when a misunderstanding arises, their lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart. 

Toni's Thoughts:
Overall, I absolutely loved this book!  In a way, it was what I expected it to  be: an in-depth view of an ancient and foreign relationship between two women.  But the juice was in the details as well as the myriad topics it deal with.  The story was laced with themes of hierarchy, antiquated rituals, female-male relationships, and cultural propriety.  Lily's relationship with Snow Flower was a roller-coaster from the beginning, which often resulted in my not knowing exactly how I felt about Lily's character.

In a time when the culture was not conductive to strong female relationships, Lily and Snow Flower's friendship truly endured.  Don't get me wrong: I read the part where Lily put all of Snow Flower's business out in the street too.  But, what friendship doesn't come with its share of ups and downs?  In the beginning, Lily idolized her new friend, trying her best to impress her.  When she found out that Snow Flower was actually poor, you see her struggling with her emotions.  Ultimately she settled on confusion, confused as to why her good friend would lie to her. I felt close to Lily at that moment, because that confusion seemed so real, and so appropriate for the friendship the two girls had.  When you expect full disclosure from your friends, a lie like this can seem so unnecessary and unwarranted. 

If young-Lily was my favorite character, Lady Lu - Lily was my least favorite.  Granted, it was not Lily's fault that her mother-in-law restricted her access to Snow Flower in the early years of her marriage.  My biggest gripe is the way she reacted to Snow Flower's appeals for friendship while she went through her loveless and disgraceful marriage.  As the new Lady Lu, Lily completely forgot how to be a friend.  She was selfish and forgot that pity did not equal friendship.  I constantly felt that Lily was looking down her nose at Snow Flower, especially when she could not conceive or when Snow Flower spoke of "bed business" with her husband.  Lily's new station in life dragged her away from the things that were most important to her development, including her laotong.  When Snow Flower's heart was too heavy for the loneliness and she she decided to take on Sworn Sisters, Lily's reaction was ghastly and it only drove them further apart.  It was not until Snow Flower was on her deathbed that Lily realized how important her friend was to her, and how wicked she had truly been.

One of my favorite attributes of this novel was the way writing and symbolism were praised by the author and the characters.  In Snow Flower, the prose created intracacies in every circumstance, from the rituals to the songs and poems.  Sorrow seemed sadder, and joy seemed happier in this book.  Every paragraph seemed monumental, open for inspection and comprehension by all characters.  And, at least when they were growing up, every situation was an opportunity to learn.  One of my favorite quotes was from the loathed Madame Wang: 
"You may be desperate, but never let anyone see you as anything less than a cultivated woman." p 128
It is hard to say anything negative about this book.  Any changes would likely take away from the emotions generated by the story.  I only wonder what would have happened if we would have known both sides of the story.  It would have been interesting for the chapters to alternate between Snow Flower's and Lily's perspectives from the beginning.  Getting both sides of the story might have answered questions that I had earlier in the book, without having to wait for Snow Flower's death ceremonies.  When it comes down to it, this book is extremely well written and told, with few (if any)  unanswered questions left.  I would not be surprised if I found myself delving into more Lisa See in the near future.  

5 Stars


Sunshine said...

One of the things I loved most about this book was Lily's voice. It reminded me of a grandmother telling the story of her life as the tone was more conversational. I can honestly say that I was hooked from beginning to end. I felt connected to Lily and the author did a great job at evoking emotions from the readers. A lot of the customs were unfamiliar to me and it was clear that a lot of research went into the telling of this story. Because of my connection with Lily, I was on her side when she found out the lies she had been told from the one person closest to her. She should have been angry and hurt but what she does with those feelings left a bad taste in my mouth. I was shocked that she, who had been extremely lucky to have perfect feet, would turn so cruel toward someone who is essentially supposed to be her best friend forever. The only thing that changed was their status, Lily came from a poorer family and because of her perfect feet was able to become a woman of the highest status while Snow Flower came from a once prestigious family but due to misfortune was now of lower status. How is it so easy for her forget the compassion Snow Flower showed her when things were opposite, despite the original selfish motives. Snow Flower accepted Lily, was it so much to ask the same of Lily in return? After Lily publicly humiliates Snow Flower, my connection with her was severed and I found myself more on Snow Flower's side of the misunderstanding. I don't think that Snow Flower would have ever done that to Lily. I know that Snow Flower lied but I believe that after the truth was revealed she kept her promise to be honest with Lily. I suppose people say things they don't mean out of anger, but is it justified? In my opinion, Lily overreacted and should have at least put her feelings aside and, out of love, listened to her loalong's explanation. It's good that she feels regret but she realizes her mistakes too late. It is clear that these two women loved one another deeply and a friendship like this only comes once in a lifetime.

Toni, I definitely agree with you and wish that we had been able to see both sides of the story. However, I wonder if that would have changed my feeling toward the characters. I think that Lily got exactly what she deserved and I'm glad that the Sworn Sisters made her feel stupid for the way she acted, despite also wishing that they could have made amends sooner. It is a shame that it takes Snow Flower to be on her deathbed for her to realize what she's lost. Much can be learned from their story, even though it is set in ancient times. It is tragic yet dare I say beautiful.

All that being said, this was a good book. Great pick Toni!! I agree that this is a well written story and also loved the symbolism.
I'm going to have to agree on the 5 star rating here.

~D.A. Phoenix~ said...

Okay so I'm late but i just got the book the day before yesterday and i finished today so...here I am. I can't say that love this book as much as you guys did. Because I didn't. I couldn't readily identify wit anyone in this book. I guess it's because I as born in the year of the ram...who knows...

This book was beautifully written. The prose is wonderful and it seemed a very accurate portrayal of the time period. In order to read this book I had to remind myself of the time this book is set in. I kept finding myself like "oh fuck that. I wouldn't let anyone treat me like that" So in order to get through the book I had to step outside of my own beliefs.

As difficult as that was I think that this is the mark of a good book. The honest portrayal of what a friendship is like is what I enjoyed about this book. I liked the fact that Lily and Snow Flower went through so much together. It showed that love between friends can endure a lot even if it isn't everything. Misunderstandings happen and things can get out of hand fairly quickly. There are somethings that we just can't take back and this fact transcends time periods.

A lot of the concepts in this book are universal. I liked that. Even though I was upset a lot of the time it is something that I'm glad that I read.

I'll give it a 4

MissJones said...

I definitely agree with you. I found myself upset a lot reading this, whether it came to the wife-beating or the bumps in character's relationship.

Post a Comment