Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Holy CRAP this week has been so busy, and mostly in the, “Okay, tomorrow I have to do this, this, and this, so why do I still feel like I’m forgetting something?” way. Which is really irritating for me because I’m still afraid I’m forgetting something. But it’s been eventful! At least that much can be said. And things… catch you off guard. I’ve made plans for the middle of this week that I didn’t have on Sunday, and they caused my days to be very packed. But first, let’s talk happiness.

I like kids. I REALLY like kids, and almost always, kids like me just as well. I’m good with kids. So right now I have a long-term volunteer position in a fifth-grade classroom in the school system my dad works for (though he’s not a teacher, he’s a ‘big man on top’). And really if anyone is tired of hearing me talk of this, feel free to scroll past this paragraph and I won’t hold it against you. Anyway, I LOVE this class. We clicked very quickly and now (according to the teacher) the kids look forward to seeing me, and ask about me when I’m not there, and are all-around more energetic when I am there. So I went in on Monday and I got to spend ALL day with the kids one-on-one (though it’s a big class, so I still didn’t get to see EVERYONE). I got about twenty minutes with each kid, and they would read a piece of their book to me and then we would chat loosely for the remaining time, and take a few extra minutes if we wanted. It was a lot of fun to get that personal time with the students.

Yet still the best part of that day was right after lunch when I got to see one particularly bright girl, with no limit on how much time we could take, who was reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Actually, she’d just finished rereading it. So we went back and reread our favorite parts. But we only read for ten minutes or so, and then talked for another forty, and I LOVE this girl. She reminds me so much of me when I was ten. I even had another kid tell me that this girl was always reading, so she’s even got the same reputation I had. Slightly more talkative. It was just incredibly enjoyable to talk to her.

Then I found a completely and utterly heartwarming email from the teacher in my inbox when I returned from my English class (which has kicked my ASS this weekend, good god) and it was like tying a gold ribbon of cotton candy and love around my giant gift-wrapped present of a day. Monday was amazing for me.

Then we came to yesterday, which was art class and sewing a mole. Yeah. And you know, that thing came out damn adorable except for the feet. He wears glasses and a cape with the word “irrelevant” on it.

Today I went BACK to my fifth graders because I can’t get enough of them. After, I did my psychology homework and finished this book, which has definitely taken longer than necessary.

Yes, you might just recognize that author, because she wrote another book I greatly greatly enjoyed and reviewed a few weeks ago- Shanghai Girls. I loved Shanghai Girls so much that I looked up the writer’s other works and this one stuck out to me as so intriguing, so I was very lucky that it happened to be the only other Lisa See book my school library owned.

This book takes place in China in the 1830’s and tells the life story of a girl named Lily, who at a young age develops a laotong (old-same) relationship with a girl named Snow Flower. The special thing about having an old-same (as very few girls actually had them) was that, for women in China in the early 1800’s life was pretty much “obey, obey, obey.” You were born knowing that you should have been a son, as daughters held much less worth, and were raised with practically no love. When you were six, you had your feet painfully bound to an ideal size of 7 centimeters. When you were seventeen, you were married out to a man’s family, where you were of the lowest status in the entire house. It was not a good time to be a woman. When you had an old-same, however, it was like a reprieve from the madness- she was a woman you could tell anything to, things courtesy dictates you never mention. You grow alongside this other woman, and to Lily, Snow Flower became the person she loved more than anyone else in her life.

So that’s BASICALLY it. It’s basically a memoir, though technically fictional. It’s told from the perspective of Lily (yes, first-person), now a woman of 80 years- almost twice as old as women were expected to live back then. The book put a huge amount of emphasis on nu shu writing, a language created for and used exclusively by women to keep secrets from men. Lily and Snow Flower began their laotong relationship be exchanging a fan upon which they wrote the most important details of their lives in nu shu. The shared this fan between themselves to mark with every important detail of their lives, beginning with their acquaintanceship and including such vital dates as their weddings and the births of their children, as well as other events that they deemed important enough to go on the fan.

According to the author’s notes, Lisa See basically wrote this book because she became obsessed with nu shu, but what became of it was an epic life story and rags-to-riches tale about a young woman growing old and living a respectable, pious life alongside her old-same. Of course, if it were that simple the story would be quite boring. No. The two face a huge number of obstacles as they try to live peaceful, happy lives, including issues which ultimately damage their relationship in irreversible ways.

So, I’m going to say that this book is about friendship and love, as what Lily talked about throughout the book (though perhaps lost sight of in some places) was that what she truly wanted in her life was love. In fact, the narrative begins with her explaining that there are different kinds of love, and how mother-love was the most difficult to understand because it involved dealing your daughter an incredible amount of pain and showing very little love. What Lily realizes as she matures is that her laotong-love for Snow Flower is stronger than any love she would ever feel for her husband, children, or natal family. And it was quite powerful. Also rather heartbreaking in places.

Ultimately, while I greatly enjoyed this book, I think I liked Shanghai Girls more. And I know I’ve turned my sister off from reading it by describing the foot-binding scene, and Third Sister’s resulting infection. And it was quite sickening as I read it, but I found it more grotesquely fascinating than nauseating. But. It was still very, very good.

I have three books in my pile right now. One is something my brother has been trying to get me to read for several weeks, but I was busy and he can deal with that. He says it’s a quick read, so maybe I’ll be back on her sooner than usual. Though maybe not- my next few days are very busy. After that is a book I’ve borrowed from my dad, and then after that the one that my dad bought me from Amazon several weeks ago.

Meh, tomorrow doesn’t look like fun…. I’m very tired. I hadn’t actually planned to stay up and do this tonight, I was going to read until the last ten pages or so and then finish it and write this thing before school. But that didn’t pan out. Mostly because I really wanted to finish this book…. And here it is! So I guess I’ll see you in the next-week zone of time, yes? Very nice.

Published in: on December 2, 2010 at 1:00 am  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What-ho? Another entry? My, my.

    I remember I actually went through a phase of reading books to do with Chinese and Japanese culture (cue Memoirs of a Geisha and Chinese Cinderella; which, if you haven’t read, then GOOD GOD PUT IT ON THE LIST) and I thoroughly enjoyed them. And it sounds either patronizing or ridiculous to say that I “grew out of them” as though once you hit a certain age they’re not interesting anymore, but I did, in a way, grow out of that phase of wanting to read historical memoirs.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the tutoring thing though… you seriously should become a teacher and do art as a hobby. Only because teachers are always in demand. Always. Everywhere. You have a teaching degree and you’re pretty much set for life. Whereas artists have a pretty cruddy life till they hit it big (if they hit it big) and then they have to struggle with the pressures of being successful. Seriously, go with teaching πŸ˜‰

    • I don’t know, I have such a loathing of the school system that I don’t think I’m the best person for a job. The thing is that with what I’m doing right now, I get all the fun working with kids stuff, but I don’t have to deal with the HASSLES of teaching. Which sounds like a BS answer, I know, so let’s say it really means I don’t want to think about it. I’m still considering owning a bookstore.

      • Fair enough. But your passion is kids πŸ™‚

      • And books. πŸ˜‰

  2. Oh, another thing, you should set a history widget out on your page. Either a calendar like I have on mine or a scroll-through or a search… but you should have your entries organized so that people can pick and choose if they want to read a certain review ^^ just a thought.

  3. How was Lily assigned to her old-same? Or her old-same assigned to her?

    • A matchmaker set them up. All of their “eight characters” had to match- born on the same hour of the same day, same social class (though they actually weren’t, so they weren’t perfectly matched), feet bound on the same day.

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