In 19th-century China, when wives and daughters 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 reflect upon their arranged marriages, 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 lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a brilliantly realistic journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. With the period detail and deep resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.
©2005 Lisa See; (P)2005 Books on Tape Inc.
"Engrossing....Both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle." (Publishers Weekly)
I want to read books that take me to a "place and/or time" I've never been. On the other hand, I love reading about places where I HAVE been.
Based on recommendation by others I read this because I'm on a reading jag about China. I say "meh."
The story, told in a first-person narrative, describes a special bond between two girls who keep their relationship from age 7 throughout their lives. The story starts interestingly enough. Lily, an old woman of 80 looks back on her life with regret. The remainder of the book explains why. It takes a very long time to find out why. I got impatient.
Meanwhile there were some interesting factoids such as foot binding and "nu shu" (women's writing) which sent me to the internet to read further. I also liked the parts about the Taiping Rebellion/Invasion but would have liked more historical fact on the duration, motivation and outcome. I came to sympathize with the poverty, living conditions and diseases the Chinese suffered. The story of Lily, Snow Flower and the secret fan were the least interesting part.
I have mixed views on this book, as you can see. But a HUGE disadvantage to my experience was listening to the audible.com version narrated by Janet Song, who has the most unfortunate and irritating voice and style I've ever experienced. Except when the omniscient first person (the author) quotes what another character is saying, the narrator (Ms. Song) uses a Breathless, Urgent, and Desperate voice when narrating the first person, Lily's, thoughts-even when there is no emotion what-so-ever.
Remember when Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ says "Lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!!!!" Now imagine this sentence in the same frantic tone: "I washed my face and got into my bed clothes" (Oh My!!!!!)
This went on ad nauseum. Janet Song is the chosen narrator for all of Lisa See's books so I guess I won't be listening to any of those. Kindle here I come.
The Narrator is HORRIBLE in this book! She has no ability to portray a story. Who hired this person? PLEASE AUDITION ME! I WOULD DO A MUCH BETTER JOB!!!
The story is lovely, but the narrator has an overdramatic approach to her storytelling that made it seem like she was always on the verge of breaking down. But the most appalling thing was her disregard for the chinese language. She didn't attempt at all to correctly pronounce the common words in the story like nushu and laotong!! Someone narrating 11 hours of a culturally rich story should attempt to get that correct as it was very much the heart of the story.
Lisa See has an incredible gift for making you feel what her characters feel. They become real. And Janet Song is a gifted narrator. This was my first audio book by Lisa See and I experienced more emotions than I can name while listening to this story. It has a very graphic description of foot binding which is not for the squeamish but well worth listening to. I never knew how much these women went through for social status and a better life. The relationship between these 2 girls/women is remarkable. Must listen!
This is a great story, and paints a clear picture of Chinese culture during foot-binding days. Really enjoyed this view of the secluded lives of Chinese women and of the culture.
This was an interesting historical fiction about two women bound together for life through ancient Chinese custom as old-sames; a sacred relationship more intimate than that of friend, sister, daughter, or wife.
Throughout their lives, their histories and constantly evolving circumstances affect their relationship. From the tender age at which both girls suffer the tortuous pain of having their feet bound, through their years as young wives and mothers, and finally as old women, they communicate through the use of secret womens' writing on a fan. Their interpretation of one another's joys and sorrows through the writings on the secret fan play an important role in their story.
I did not particularly enjoy the narration style; it was read in an unusual monotone delivered in a somewhat staccato style, though this was completely a personal preference.
I would recommend this book to readers interested in the history of womens' lives and relationships in ancient China.
I wasn't sure how to rate this. I loved this book when I read it myself. In fact, it's one of my favorites. The written story deserves a 5. I listened to it to refresh my memory after it turned up on my book club list and I was extremely disappointed. I don't think that the reader did it justice. There was something about her voice or enunciation that made it very difficult to listen to. If I hadn't already known what a good book it was, and if I hadn't needed the refresher, I don't think that I would have listened to the whole book.
This book is a must for anyone interested in Chinese culture and, in particular, foot binding. I loved it despite the off-putting reading. I found it very difficult to get past this reader's unusual and illogical intonation and urgent tone. It is a credit to See's marvellous writing that this did not put me off altogether!
This was an excellent listen and perfectly scripted novel into the history of Chinese women's culture. I have read many Asian novels both fiction and non fiction about the evolution of Asian history and tradtions, and this poignant manuscript is by far one of the very best. Both writer and narrator deliver a 5 star performance, and I will definitely be referring many others to read it.
This book conveys a most convincing portrait of the cultural roles of Chinese women of the era. The description of the foot-binding process itself is excruciatingly detailed and the social and cultural ramifications of bound feet illuminating. The emphasis on bearing sons, the various hierarchies of obedience and duty, and the overarching "otherness" of the culture are very well represented. I was particularly struck by the some of the expectations of the after-life of which I was unaware.
Fortunately, all of the above was more than enough to maintain my interest throughout the book. To me, the story itself was disappointing. Possibly this was due to my own inability to sifficently leave behind my own notions of common sense and human decency and let myself float into a world view that so thoroughly debased women, independent thought, and, all too often, any notion of kindness.
The narration was probably very much in keeping with the tone of the book but I couldn't help being reminded of the lyrics of the song "Don't cry for me, Argentina." This narration could be heard as the antithesis of that sentiment. The narrator's tone of voice is one of almost totally unrelieved misery.
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