What’s it all about?:
In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared 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 deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
What did I think?:
This is the second time I am reading this book, and although I give it the same rating as before, I think I actually enjoyed it more this time. I am a big fan of Chinese fiction/history anyway, but I think the author does a wonderful job of painting a country so rich in culture and her eye for detail is perfect. One of the scenes that stayed with me the most was the description of our main character Lily’s foot binding – not for the squeamish! I am absolutely fascinated by this old tradition of binding young girl’s feet while they were still malleable, and the bones hadn’t formed properly, for the pleasure of men who preferred their women’s feet to be tiny. And that this practice, as the author tells us, carried on in some rural areas until 1951 is mind-boggling.
Another intriguing thing about the book is the secret women’s writing, called nu shu, which Lily and Snow Flower use to communicate on a special fan. This is a lovely way for the two girls to send secret messages to each other without fear of retribution from men. Sadly it seems in this period, women were looked upon as quite useless creatures and banished to upstairs chambers for sewing or other “womanly deeds.” What I didn’t expect from my second reading of this novel, is how I would feel about the two main characters, Lily and Snow Flower. I’m not sure why, perhaps the more recent reading allowed a deeper analysis, and my sympathies seemed to wax and wane. I would always recommend a re-reading of an enjoyed novel because of this, as you can always get something else out of it.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):