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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel Paperback – February 21, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812968069
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812968064
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,179 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. See's engrossing novel set in remote 19th-century China details the deeply affecting story of lifelong, intimate friends (laotong, or "old sames") Lily and Snow Flower, their imprisonment by rigid codes of conduct for women and their betrayal by pride and love. While granting immediacy to Lily's voice, See (Flower Net) adroitly transmits historical background in graceful prose. Her in-depth research into women's ceremonies and duties in China's rural interior brings fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women's inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that informed daily life. Beginning with a detailed and heartbreaking description of Lily and her sisters' foot binding ("Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace"), the story widens to a vivid portrait of family and village life. Most impressive is See's incorporation of nu shu, a secret written phonetic code among women—here between Lily and Snow Flower—that dates back 1,000 years in the southwestern Hunan province ("My writing is soaked with the tears of my heart,/ An invisible rebellion that no man can see"). As both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle, this novel has bestseller potential and should become a reading group favorite as well.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Lily at 80 reflects on her life, beginning with her daughter days in 19th-century rural China. Foot-binding was practiced by all but the poorest families, and the graphic descriptions of it are not for the fainthearted. Yet women had nu shu, their own secret language. At the instigation of a matchmaker, Lily and Snow Flower, a girl from a larger town and supposedly from a well-connected, wealthy family, become laotong, bound together for life. Even after Lily learns that Snow Flower is not from a better family, even when Lily marries above her and Snow Flower beneath her, they remain close, exchanging nu shu written on a fan. When war comes, Lily is separated from her husband and children. She survives the winter helped by Snow Flower's husband, a lowly butcher, until she is reunited with her family. As the years pass, the women's relationship changes; Lily grows more powerful in her community, bitter, and harder, until at last she breaks her bond with Snow Flower. They are not reunited until Lily tries to make the dying Snow Flower's last days comfortable. Their friendship, and this tale, illustrates the most profound of human emotions: love and hate, self-absorption and devotion, pride and humility, to name just a few. Even though the women's culture and upbringing may be vastly different from readers' own, the life lessons are much the same, and they will be remembered long after the details of this fascinating story are forgotten.–Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

I love stories about women and their friendships.
P. C. Bray
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan gives the reader a fascinating look at life for women in 19th Century China.
Cynthia K. Robertson
I thought this book was very well written and the story was very interesting.
Kelly Erickson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

310 of 328 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on August 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an engrossing and fascinating story of women's friendships in nineteenth century rural China. This is an excellent, well-written novel--fascinating on so many levels. Lily, the narrator of the novel is in her eighties, looking back on her life. She shares the stories of her foot binding, nu shu, the secret women's writing, and the various formally women's friendships that society enforced. Lily's sister participated in a sworn sisterhood, where a group of young women formed a friendship that was to last until marriage, but Lily is paired with one girl, Snow Flower, her laotong or "old same." Lily and Snow Flower have a love that is stronger than all of her other relationships--and it causes them both more heartbreak. The novel is really the story of their friendship, its depths, its deceits, its strengths--and it is a fascinating read about a society so different from our own. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan reminds me in many ways of The Red Tent in that it explores female friendship in a setting much different than any contemporary one. A fascinating read.
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341 of 370 people found the following review helpful By Virginia J. Tufte on July 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel is surely intended for any reader who likes a compelling, historically-set, moving, suspenseful story. I have been a fan of Lisa See's mysteries, and her sympathies with, and skill in creating characters of both sexes, are apparent in both the mystery plots and the present book.

This plot is beautifully woven, with two women at its center, but there is compassion for both the women and the men in the nineteenth-century Chinese society the author re-creates so vividly. Lisa See obviously LIKES her characters, and she develops some understanding of and compassion for ALL of them. Her natural sensitivity, vast research--including visits and interviews in the remote region she is writing about--make her work fully convincing.

Tender, celebratory, joyous, painful, heart-breaking at times-- this is a memorable, glorious book. After reading it, I found myself thinking more and more about some of the power, motivations, love, violence, and ways of communication in our twenty-first century societies.

I will pass my copy along to a friend or two, but I will say "Be sure to return it."
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75 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn Dee VINE VOICE on December 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
The lifelong story of Lily and Snow Flower broke my heart on so many levels. I cried for them as little girls enduring the traditions they were born to. I cried some more as their fates unfolded and it became evident it would not be a happy ever after tale. "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" was an unexpected surprise for me, a great story with twists and turns you might not anticipate. It is fast moving , almost from the first page and by mid book, I wasn't able to put it down. I just had to know what happened and couldn't wait for the ending. Teen girls should read "Snow Flower" to better understand how far women have come since the days of foot binding and arranged marriages. This was an excellent story and I highly recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
This 2005 novel is about the friendship between two Chinese women in mid-19th century rural China. What was so wonderful about it was that I actually felt I was part of their world and totally accepted their view of life as my own.

Snow Flower and Lily are friends, but their friendship was not random. When they were only seven years old, a marriage broker arranged a contract in which they agreed to be friends for life. They did not live in the same town and Snow Flower came from a more prosperous family than Lily, but Snow Flower visited Lily often, and learned to do household chores as well as the complicated embroidery that all young Chinese girls did in preparation for their future marriages. Yes, both of these girls, as well as the other girls in their households had bound feet. The pain must have been awful. Yet, it was an accepted part of being a woman in those times, and mothers who wanted their daughters to marry well had to force their young girls to go through the agony.

A woman's world was completely different from the world of men. Their lives were that of isolation. In order to communicate, they actually had a secret written language. This language has been documented and really did exist. It is the only known language in the world to have been developed exclusively by women for women. The two girls would write to each other in this language on a fan which they sent back and forth to each other. Both of them hoped for a bright future.

As the girls grow up we share their experiences of marriage. They didn't meet their husbands until the wedding day. And their function in their new households was only to bear sons. Mothers-in-law were usually hard taskmasters and were always critical of them.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By The Literary Assassin on July 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
The back copy will have you believe that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an enriching tale of female empowerment, when in fact is is just the opposite. It's the story of female knuckling-under and backbiting, the greed of women who have so little power that they will clutch at everything they can get, even to the point of destroying someone they loved.

The narrator, Lily, is a remarkably undeveloped character; she's really nothing more than a mask that the author/reader puts on for a time to get a look into nineteenth-century China.

Lily's defining characteristic, stated early in the book, is that she "wants to be loved." The author goes to great lengths to demonstrate how Lily tries to find love and then destroys what she loved when she perceives herself rejected. This is supposed to be the theme and plot of the book. However, despite See's constant reiterations of how the bond between the two girls is supposed to be stronger than marriage, I found the narration too flat and unemotional to allow me to care.

The early parts, the accounts of the girls' childhood and everyday lives, are interesting for their cultural insight. The prose tends to be a bit maudlin, however, with frequent references to bad times ahead that felt very manipulative. When the bad times come, they are sudden, random and not really related to the inner conflicts of the characters. Yes, in real life tragedy can strike without warning, but the narrative flatness became almost ridiculous during these scenes--Lily reports on the emotions of everybody else with the detachment of a TV camera. Furthermore, nobody learns or changes anything as a result of the bad times. Everybody pretty much goes on as before.
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