Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel
New York, United States: Random House, 2005
Fiction. (Purchased as an E-Book, Number of Pages Unknown)
Laotong in Chinese means “old sames”. It is an arranged friendship between two girls who are matched by a matchmaker, and this match must be precise in that the girls’ “eight characters” have to be similar, such as their birth hour, birth day, birth month, birth year, the day their feet are bound, the age they had their feet bound, their placement in the family- whether being youngest/middle/oldest child and one other thing I failed to catch. Set in Puwei in Yongming County, China in the 1800’s, this novel is about the lives of two girls who are laotongs.
I have never had such a hard time writing a review for a book before as I have had writing this one. I had finished this book well over two months ago and struggled to write about it ever since. This book is powerful and I was captivated by it in a way I can barely begin to explain. Instead of following an entire emotional journey with the characters in this book, I felt I was being carried along with it. It was as if I was reading about my own life and I blindly accepted and agreed with what was happening. To be clear, I have never had experiences exactly like the ones the girls went through in this novel; however, they reminded me of instances with many friends and people throughout my life. That being said, there were many events that took place in which I couldn’t empathize with and they aroused disbelief and other melancholic emotions within me.
This novel is about a very deep relationship between a girl named Lily and her laotong Snow Flower. The history of their matching is a very complicated and sad one. Yet, this friendship is more important and in a greater depth to these girls then even marriage. Although marriages were arranged too, they consisted of a lot of pressure for a woman- to be the perfect wife for a man and his appetites although their knowledge in that area was limited, to get pregnant with the perfect sons otherwise their place in their husband’s household was uncertain, and to be the lowest of all family members in your own home and in your husbands’ where the in-laws had a right to abuse you. With a laotong, girls can share and experience deep hearted love, which is the purest of all, and be accepted for who you are and have someone to support and comfort you. Any other relationship was strict, since being a girl meant you were a “worthless branch” and the love from those other relationship was so easily jeopardized. Take for example mother love, in the Chinese language it is written with the same characters for pain and love and it was exactly that. Mothers were hard on their daughters, they believed the harder and meaner they were to their daughters that the better the daughters would learn to endure the life of being a female. Daughters thought their parents didn’t love them, that they would’ve been better off dead, regretted being born a female and endured extreme pressure to make up for their worthlessness. This kind of love cannot be easy on any person’s psyche, whether you are girl or a boy.
An obsession with deep hearted love, the unrealistic ideals it caused for a desperate girl, the hardship of being female in this time and culture and a lifelong friendship to endure it all with an ending of unexpected tragedy makes for an amazing book from Lisa See. Despite the fact I found it difficult to write a review for, I loved this book. I feel it was a definite must read for people like me and that my bookshelf is becoming complete with Lisa See’s novels on it.
As for the movie, I enjoyed it as well. The novel was not followed exactly, many things were changed such as the twist they added into it of switching between the past and modern day. It was unexpected and I was a little unsure how I’d feel about the movie after reading the book but it was well done, it created the same feel and emotions. However, certain parts about the past would be hard to follow without reading the book first since a lot of events were left out. I think to the people who didn’t read the book first it would seem a mediocre movie with the flow of it lacking. The movie is not a must see after reading the book, the novel is more than sufficient.