Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is an amazing novel about two women who are childhood best friends that share everything with each other, even a deep love they describe as more sacred than the love between a man and wife. This is a great piece of historical fiction set in 19th century China during the days when young girls had their feet bound to keep them tiny forever and were betrothed as young as 13 years old.
The story follows two young girls who are arranged to be laotong or the ancient Chinese equivalent of best friends for life. The word literally means “old same.” Young girls in middle to upper-class economic settings were often matched by zodiac signs, upbringings, foot size, etc. and were made to write and sign a contract to always be loyal and true friends to each other. The main characters, Lily and Snow Flower are inseparable and go through everything life has to throw at them. They experience foot binding, marriage, child birth, war, and even learning about the women’s secret writing, nu-shu. Nu-Shu was a type of writing that only women used in ancient China to communicate with each other without the influence of men. It is the only written language created by women for women, as far as historians know. It is still taught in select schools in China today.
I especially recommend this novel to Millennial women, because the friendship between the main characters, Lily and Snow Flower, is entirely relatable and humanistic. Anyone who has had a best friend from childhood, who they may have drifted away from as they have grown up, can relate to Lily and Snow Flower’s struggles to cope with their issues and try to remain a presence in each others’ lives.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a fantastic novel with beautiful imagery and prose that brings a unique light to a very foreign culture to the average, modern Westerner. It may be graphic for some readers, owing to some gruesome details about the foot-binding process. Snow Flower and Lily’s story are tragic, insightful, humorous, and a beautiful tale of love and friendship. If you love historical literature, love learning about other cultures, or enjoy poetic writing, then this might just be the novel for you!
Resources: Personal experience, amazon.com