Lisa See’s work is surprising fascinating. Previous to picking up her delightfully tragic novel Peony In Love, I never would’ve believed Ancient Imperial China could be so dang interesting. This confidence in See’s writing ability and historical accuracy drew me to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
The protagonist, Lily, is a lower-middle class second daughter to a quietly tense farming household. At a young age, a matchmaker realizes that Lily has great marriageable potential because of auspicious aspects of the girl’s signs. But the most unexpected thing of all–Lily discovers that she is to have a laotong (life-long sworn friend) with a little girl named Snow Flower. The excitement she feels upon hearing the news is nothing compared to the rich friendship that eventually develops over the course of a lifetime. But when Snow Flower’s future and status start going a much separate way from her own, how is Lily supposed to choose between propriety and deference to her in-laws and her much beloved friend?
I will say that Lisa See does a great job of painting a picture of what life was like (especially for women) in that ancient period. The way she describes textures and colors and scents really draws you into the story. However, I do with that she had explained the exact era in a bit more detail. (My guess would be the late-1800’s–it’s hard to say since the Chinese Empire lasted from 221 BC to 1912 AD).
Beautiful Moon was my favorite character, even though she had a very short role in the story. Lily seemed to strict and prim for Snow Flower to be friends with, and Snow Flower seemed so detached and strange to Lily. I never really felt an affection for Snow Flower, and it’s hard for me to swallow a culture where women had so little choice.
I enjoyed reading SFATSF but not enough to read it again. It lacked the magic and myth of Peony in Love and while learning about the torturous foot-binding tradition was crazy–it wasn’t enough to carry a story about a half-hearted friendship. The friendship never seemed true to me, it just seemed like two lonely girls happy about finally getting some attention.
3 of 5 secret fans