The easy narration of Lily, a young Asian woman, in “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” was mesmerizing, and captivated me on the first page. I generally shy away from this genre because I find it hard to read about the devastating way women were oppressed by society and their family. Although this disparate treatment permeated much of the plot, I found myself entranced with the strength of Snow Flower and Lily as they search for happiness and lean on each other through their lives. The themes of friendship and familial duty transcend time and culture, and culminated into a wonderfully written and fascinating story.
Lily is only seven when a matchmaker tells her family she wants to make Lily a laotong with Snow Flower, a girl from another village. A laotong relationship will not only bring respect to Lily’s impoverished family, but will bind Lily and Snow Flower forever, making them old sames. Lily and Snow Flower become good friends, and remain so through their marriages and the birth of their children. Their friendship is documented on a fan they pass between then in the language of women of the day, even though the use of this language is not permitted and must be done in secret. But through their determination to communicate with each other, the reader in keenly aware of the inner struggle the women have toward the way society demands they be treated and the obligation to behave as expected.
The book was intricately descriptive. The painful foot binding that Lily endured was so vivid, that I actually ripped off my own shoe while reading because my foot started to hurt! The author’s vast knowledge of culture provided the perfect platform for a story that questions a woman’s worth in a male dominated society. Told as a memoir, the flashback perspective enriched the book by allowing the author to comment on her own actions with the wisdom only age can bring.
I can’t wait to watch the movie in a few days! I think women would find this book more enjoyable than men, as so much of the story deals with women’s relationships with each other and finding their place in life.