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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.
"Engrossing....Both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle." (Publishers Weekly)
Reminscent of "Memoirs of a Geisha," this book takes place in 19th century China where women's roles were limited to bearing children (preferably sons) and doing chores around the house. They live in their inlaws' house and rarely, if ever, see their parents once they move in. Not only is Lily's marriage arranged, but so is her deep friendship with Snowflower. They quickly grow to love each other. I'll stop now to avoid giving away the plot. The novel is narrated by Lily at 80 years old, twice the years of the average lifespan of a woman. This is a truly wonderful novel with an excellent narrator. I missed the characters acutely once it was over.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
The narrator (Janet Song) managed to pull me in immediately and I anxiously looked forward to car trips to keep up with the story. I even listened to it while doing housework. It is now one of my favorite audios.
This book tells the story of the realm of women during early 1800's China. Women spent their entire lives inside concerned only with household duties. It is told through the point of view of Lily, now an old woman of 80 years. She begins with her poor childhood and the days just before her foot-binding at age 7. Because she is so beautiful and has remarkable feet a lao-tang match is made for her with a girl of a more educated and refined background, Snow Flower. The two become life-long friends and enter into a relationship with a stronger bond even then marriage during that time period.
They communicate using Nu-shu, or women's writing, a more simplified version of the Chinese characters. Because it is forbidden they hide their words in a large fan and send it back and forth over the years.
Both girls take very different paths when it is time for them to marry, but they continue their friendship through letters and their secret fan. Through family deaths, famine and war we see the hard lives thrust upon women and are completely engrossed in their stories. The images of the rigors of foot-binding will stay with me forever.
I highly recommend this book. We will be discussing at my next book group and I’m dying to see what the ladies have to say.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
I have heard good reviews about this book for years, and it has been a popular choice as a Book Club read, so I looked forward to listening for some time. What a disappointment! Although I found the story somewhat interesting and informative at times, the narrator's voice was so grating that it was a real struggle to complete. I would suggest a paper copy of the book, if you want to bother at all. The theme of the book is about female friendship, but I found it difficult to relate to the selfishness of the main character. The reasons for Lily's abandonment of her life-long friend for many years was hard to fathom, and its resolution didn't ring true for me. For a much better, less sappy story, I'd vote for Memoirs of a Geisha anytime!
14 of 15 people found this review helpful
I was reading this novel about a year ago and lost my book. I found it here on Audible and decided to listen to it. I recalled that even though I did not get far into the reading of it before I had liked what I read.
What happened is this: I got tired of narrator's tone. So I went and purchased paperback and started reading the book again. However, when reading to myself I kept hearing the narrator's voice. The story is so very good that even tho I did not care much for the narrator's tone I still listened to it during times I could not read- like at work and doing household chores.
The story is so touching, even powerful because I know it will influence my future perceptions of the value of friendships, sisterhood, and mother-daughter relationships.
The focus is primarily the relationship between two girls/women and reminds me of my relationship with my own twin-sister. Extremely few bonds are ever as close. Even the physical contact shared by these two may to some seem inappropriate but they were not sexual experiences. It just showed how deep the friendship became- "old sames".
I also liked the other relationship perceptions explored by the author (Mother-daughter, Aunties, Blood sisters, Daugher/Mother-in-law, etc). This novel delves into many issues that arise in the lives of women and although the culture is very different from American culture (for instance the practice of taking a concubine) the feelings are very much the same and identifiable.
I laughed a little. I cried a little more. But I loved all.
About the narrator: eventually her voice/tone grew on me. It helped to be able to read the physical copy as well. I listened to 100% of the novel and read 100%. I am likely to listen to it again now that I am accustomed to the narrator....but for certain I will be entertained by this novel again be it audio or visual.
Don't pass it up either way.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
While I loved hearing details about this period of time in China, I found the narrator's voice to be incredibly irritating and distracting. This is a book I would have enjoyed more as a read than a listen.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Previous reviewers who loved this story (as I do) have already stated the obvious - it is heartfelt, insightful and brings us into the inner world of Chinese women's culture. I was drawn in immediately and never let go - the ending was heartbreaking and touching at the same time. It makes a poignant statement about the nature of friendship, loyalty and unconditional love. This was a book I was sorry to end.
Some reviewers have not enjoyed the reader - I felt that her reading was excellent and added greatly to the characters and the sense of place and time. I'd recommend listening to the sample to determine if the reading is not to your liking, but I loved it.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
What a wonderful view into life for women in China half a century ago! I feel the reader did a great job and I was sad to have the book end.
22 of 26 people found this review helpful
This was a beautiful story about a friendship of two young girls from different backgrounds and all the things they went through growing up. I enjoyed this book so much it was well written. This is the third book I have read from this author and I must say she has become one of my favorites!! A great book!!!!
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
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.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
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.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful