Snow Flower And The Secret Fan: A Novel by Lisa SeeSnow Flower And The Secret Fan: A Novel by Lisa Seesticker-burst

Snow Flower And The Secret Fan: A Novel

byLisa See

Paperback | February 21, 2006

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Lily is haunted by memories–of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness.

In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu (“women’s writing”). Some girls were paired with laotongs, “old sames,” in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.

With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become “old sames” at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, 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 lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a brilliantly realistic journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. With the period detail and deep resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.
Lisa See is the author of Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year. She lives in Los Angeles.
Title:Snow Flower And The Secret Fan: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 7.98 × 5.2 × 0.7 inPublished:February 21, 2006Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0812968069

ISBN - 13:9780812968064

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is the most amazing book! This is literally one of the best books I've ever read! It made me weep like you wouldn't believe! I cannot say how much I love this book, you must read it!
Date published: 2018-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved It! This is a beautiful story. It really when in depth on how complicated friendships can be.
Date published: 2018-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful With a great sense of place and character, this is a heartbreaking story of friendship and misunderstanding.
Date published: 2018-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic read! The author sweeps you away with the beautiful and bittersweet story of two girls and their journey through life.
Date published: 2018-01-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great book! As always the author writes extremely well! The plight of women and the expectations put upon them is well evidenced in this book and is almost heart-breaking.
Date published: 2017-11-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really enjoyed Interesting story, but it is sad how circumscribed their lives were and how women were considered worthless unless they produced a son.
Date published: 2017-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from beautiful story I love this book. I learned a lot about Chinese culture.
Date published: 2017-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful Story of Two Friends I really enjoyed this book and the historical detail she goes into about foot binding, marriage, and class. The characters grow and change together, we see how two women can stay connected throughout their entire lives creating a bond that cannot be broken even through the most trying of times. Definitely one of her best books.
Date published: 2017-06-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A wonderful read So beautiful and a great read
Date published: 2017-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of her best This is one of Lisa See's best novels. It's very moving and paints a wonderful picture of friendship changing throughout a women's life. I highly recommend this along with all of her other works #PlumReview
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my all-time favorite! This is the very first book I read from Lisa See and one of my favorite book. Since, I have read all of her books. I could not put Snow Flower and the Secret Fan down. Love every aspect of the story, rich in culture and tradition. Amazing read!
Date published: 2017-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful story This was the first book I read from Lisa See. I have since read all her previous and later books. She is one of my favourite authors and Snow Flower is one of my favourite books. I have given it as a gift and I have reread it several times. Highly recommend. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful in every aspect. I don't think I've ever read a book as many times as this one. Set in a historical setting, Snow Flower and the Secret fan is timeless story about women and friendship. It's beautifully written, engaging, and a powerful tale. One of my favourites!
Date published: 2017-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from BRILLIANT AND BEAUTIFUL Luminescent novel about a little known part of China's culture I had never heard of before - the secret writing of women. Tenderly rendered. I cried often during the reading - the binding of feet of course was familiar as were arranged marriages. Loved it. Utterly loved it. Have reread it many times.
Date published: 2016-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read This book is beautifully written, with strong character development. I enjoyed learning about Chinese history as well, which at sometimes can be hard to read due to the hardships many women had to endure. You won't be able to put this book down.
Date published: 2016-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rich with Culture This novel was absolutely captivating. It was rich with culture and an incredible adventure. I loved every aspect of this novel as it was raw with emotion. It was easy to associate yourself with all of the characters and understand the reason behind their actions (although some were deceitful and cruel). I would recommend this novel to all of my friends.
Date published: 2016-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from NUMBER One! Wow what a great book, well written and our bookclub loved it. The best book we read in 2014
Date published: 2014-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Read Read Read!
Date published: 2014-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Excellent read, I was captured immediately and finished the book that day.
Date published: 2014-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from catches the eye and interest I could hardly put this book down. I love Lisa See. Her books are both educational and spin a great story. The story captured me right from the first page and I did not want it to end.
Date published: 2014-02-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Secret Life I read this book for a book club meeting I will be attending. I do not think I would have read this book otherwise. I do not hink that I was the target audience for this book. A story that is albout the secret life of women? I am sure that the author does not mind a man reading it, but women will enjoy the book more. There is only scant mention of the male characters and their names are hardly used. I did enjoy the book. The author told a wonderful story. The character development. The main character, who narates the story, is very well developed. Through her eyes, we see her intrepretation of the other character, whether correct or not. The story was very well developed told over many years. There are many themes that the author touches upon. The importantance of a good friend throughout your life. The need for intimacy. That we can learn from others, not matter what each others circumstances might me. The need for honesty in a relationship and how a misinterpreted word can destroy great accomplishment. WE will have a good discussion at the book club. I am the only male in it. I can see there will be a lot of discussion on the footbinding and what constitutes beauty. I can see discussions on what is expected of a woman in society. Could be a bi of man bashing. I enjoyed the book. I may not have been the targe
Date published: 2013-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Real history I read historical fiction to get a feel for the time period and to read about characters that are not the rich and famous. The history of China has always fascinated me and Lisa See has given us a slice of life that is at times cruel and beautiful that lets us see not only the life of women in China from a century ago, but also lets us feel their triumphs and tragedies. These things that may have been trivial at the time, but are as important to anyone who wishes to see a little bit into the past.
Date published: 2013-06-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Traditions A lot of information about Chinese traditions specially regarding women. Not an easy read, heartwrenching at times but really interesting. I couldn't put it down.
Date published: 2013-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stunning! (CONTAINS SPOILERS!) ***CONTAINS SPOILERS*** I don’t know if you know this, but I love books. I love bookstores, online bookstores, used bookstores, and basically any store that carries books. I always have my wish list going on Amazon and I’m constantly looking at it to see if I should buy anything this instant. Lisa See’s novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, was one of these books. I saw that it received so many good reviews and I knew that I had to read it, but for some reason it never made it into my cart. Then, one afternoon, I found myself in a used bookstore (how’d that happen?), and they had See’s novel on the shelf. Even though there was no one else in the shop with me, I snatched it up like a hot cake. This book was incredible. Very reminiscent of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, I was immediately drawn into the story of Lily, a young Chinese girl, who at the young age of 5 endures her foot binding, and ultimately meets with the girl who will become her best friend for life, Snow Flower. The writing was beautiful and the story was very fast paced. Although it took me a while to read, I was sad to see it end. Much like Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, the reader follows the main character through her entire life, witnessing not only all of her struggles and failures, but also seeing her love and succeed as a prominent woman of the time. The love between Snow Flower and Lily is immense – I can’t imagine having only one friend throughout my life, but these two girls made it look worthwhile. There were so many hard parts to read in this novel: one being the account of the foot binding. When I read, it’s normally as I’m walking and my feet were cringing as I read about what could happen to these girls if their foot binding was done incorrectly. Reading about them walking around their solitary room as they waited for the bones in their feet to break makes me feel a little nauseous as I write about it! Another really hard thing to read was the worthlessness of the girls of China. To this day, I can’t understand how any child could be seen as worthless! The girls were told they would be worthless if they didn’t produce sons. They were told to listen to their husband, listen to their mother-in-law, and rarely did you ever see a chance for a girl to stand up for herself and speak for herself. It was just so sad to read that these girls did not have the freedom that is so prominent these days. It was hard to read about how Lily started off so poor, ultimately ending up so prominent, whereas Snow Flower was the complete opposite. Ultimately, if you want to learn more about the culture of China, I would recommend this book. It even inspired me to pick up another novel of See’s, so I guess I’ll have to compare the two when I’m finished. If Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is any indication of See’s other work, I’m sure her other novels are amazing as well.
Date published: 2012-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Read! This book is great combination of beautifully written words and a great story of sisterhood. The author has presented the bond between friends in a way that has not been explored in any recent bestsellers and yet, she is able to instantly break your heart with her poetic story. For anyone who is interested in history, this book is also a good choice because it provides the prospective of a female who has had her feet bound for beauty. Never will you think of beauty as an easy opportunity. The author shows what great lengths women have gone through throuhgout history to become "beautiful".
Date published: 2011-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully moving This is the story of a young woman growing up in China during the time of the Emperors. We follow her through life has she undergoes the torturous procedure known as foot binding, how she's married off to a man her family chooses, and about her special relationship with another young girl not so different from her. This book was so beautiful and moving, the imagry that Lisa See put into her story really brought the characters to life for me. I would be surprised if this was not one of those books that is remembered for years after the author. Eagerly looking forward to Lisa See's next book Shanghai Girls.
Date published: 2010-04-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautifully written! A friend of mine in my book club told me about this book, after I had suggested Shanghai Girls for one of our readings, so I picked up this book right away. I absolutely loved it. It was so detailed and so beautifully written. I felt the girls' pain in this book as they grew up and went through footbinding, then the heartache of deceit as it came to a head. I will likely read this again in the future.
Date published: 2010-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fan-tastic! Loved this book. It is a well written and fasinating novel that brings the reader into 18th century China. It is never boring and will keep you turning the pages! The historical details about foot binding, match making, social status, familial relationships, etc. really make this novel come alive. The characters were wonderful and I am becoming a big fan of See's writing. I definitely recommend it! PS my review title is extra lame :P
Date published: 2009-12-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Don't think I liked it as much as most 3.5 stars. It is 19th century China. As children, Lily and Snow Flower are bound together as laotong – a lifelong friendship - in a society where family and sons are what’s really important. They live in different villages, and although Snow Flower comes to visit Lily and her family, they also write to each other in a secret women’s language, nu shu. It wasn’t a fast-paced book, but it was interesting to read about the Chinese culture and women's lives during the 19th century.
Date published: 2009-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from AMAZING!!! When I started reading this, I had no idea how hard it would be to put this book down. I found it quite entrancing, I couldn't stop reading it was the same way when I read it for a second time. It is quite the tale of a girl named Lily from China and the relationship between her and her laotong Snow Flower growing up and into adulthood. This is a book I know you'd love and enjoy reading again and again.
Date published: 2009-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an engrossing and interesting story of women's friendships in nineteenth century rural China. This is an excellent, well-written novel and is fascinating on so many levels. Lily, the narrator of the novel is in her eighties and is looking back on her life. She shares the stories of her foot binding, women's secret writing, and the various friendships that she experienced. Lily's older 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 explores female friendship in a setting much different than some today.
Date published: 2009-04-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” occurs in China during the eighteen hundreds. Lily the narrator of the story has reached the age of eighty years and is recounting her life. She wants forgiveness from those who have passed on before her, especially from her laotong Snow Flower. A laotong is a lifetime relationship, that is formed between two females and the commitment runs deeper than the bond between a husband and wife. Foot binding is explained in explicit detail near the beginning of the book. I was riveted to this chapter and read most of it with my mouth hanging open in terror. If you decide not to read the book, make sure you at least read the chapter on foot binding; it will change your perception of life. The whole point of foot binding was to make the female more provocative and attractive for her husband; perfect feet also provided better choices for a high-quality husband. Lily’s mother is able to create perfect feet during the foot binding process for Lily, but she also suffers a tragedy with another one of her daughters during the process. When feet are bound some suffer severe damage that leaves them unable to walk unaided and one in ten die from the procedure due to infection. Snow Flower and Lily have an intriguing relationship and the book revolves around their lives from when they are young girls to when they are married and baring children and then to their grave. Lily enjoys the more providential life and has a hard time accepting Snow Flower’s life. Lily believes Snow Flower’s problems are of her own doing. It is not until the end, that Lily sees the true and bitter facts of Snow Flower’s life. Lily’s final words for Snow Flower are: “But if the dead continue to have the needs and desires of the living, then I’m reaching out to Snow Flower and the others who witnessed it all. Please hear my words. Please forgive me.” This book does not speak highly of males; the males in the book due to the era of time treat the women like property. The origin of foot binding is controversial and no set reason for the beginning of the practice has been found, but I think it may have to do with controlling women, for in binding their feet they are basically handicapped for life and have to rely on their husbands for everything. I enjoyed this book, but I found the depth of the characters lacking, I just did not become overly attached to them. Creating new best friend in books is one of the reasons I read, but while a great read, I did not make any best friends in “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” just acquaintances.
Date published: 2008-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan This book was recommended by one of Indigo's ladies at Yonge and Hwy 7. I thought at first it was one of those with a million foreign names that I could never remember, but it wasn't, and I learned a lot about Ancient Chinese cultures and practices. The story is a drama in 1800's China when the women were, in our minds, terribly suppressed and abused, even though the men worked hard in the fields. Some men even truly loved their wives, as did Lily's in this book. Lily is an "old lady" of 80 now, writing her memoirs about her "laotang" -- her lady love whom she met as a little girl of 6. It tells of how they secretly wrote in the "nu shu" language of women and how they endured footbinding at the same time...and how some children died from the gangrene that set in as a result. It tells of the hardships of that empire when other regimes tried to oust the Emperor of that day. It does run along the lines of Heather's other "picks", not an ordinary is, as my favourite book, Secrets of Gracia del Rossi, a work of literary art. I look forward to reading Lisa's other books. Thank you, Indigo on Hwy 7 -- for the great suggestion.
Date published: 2008-07-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautiful novel. This was a wonderful novel set in the early 1800s in rural China. We met Lily, a girl in a poor family who has wonderful feet and it is decided when they are bound they might become perfect lilies and thus secure a marriage that could help her family. She gets an old same - a special contractual friendship with a girl in a higher family- named Snow Flower which will help her family over time as well. This is a wonderful novel chronicles Lily and Snow Flower's lives and the messages they write on their secret fan. It transports you to a world we know nothing about. Mesmerizing.
Date published: 2008-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Poetic brilliance I was entranced by this wondrous book set in remote 19th-century China which details the deeply affecting story of lifelong, intimate friends Lily and Snow Flower. It is both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle. This is a magical, haunting and achingly beautiful story, a marvel of imagination of a real and secret world that has only recently disappeared. It is a story so mesmerizing that the pages float away and the story remains clearly before us from beginning to end.
Date published: 2008-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Intense Lisa See's book "Snowflower and the Secret Fan" is just amazing - the description of the feet-binding of young girls in China is surreal. The 'binding' of the girls in other ways becomes the way to survive. The story is about two girls and how their lives intertwine and their families expectations.
Date published: 2008-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best books ever One of the most exquisite writings of friendship and womanhood despite culture and customs
Date published: 2007-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring & Insightful Living under seige both personally & within various communities becomes the impitus for Snowflower to discover clarity in understanding her own humanity on many levels. This inspiring novel invites the reader to explore insight into cultural liberation and the discovery that perhaps it is not as important or as prominent as gaining personal liberation . When a stone breaks the surface of a still lake the effect does not stop at the point of the stones entry. Likewise the Secret Fan has an impact that no one can imagine.
Date published: 2007-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Heartwreching and heartwarming Beautifully written, this delicate story was lovely to read. We are introduced to paired loatongs (or old-sames), Lily and Snow Flower. In 19th century China, these girls don't share much in common. They both endure ritual footbinding and learn the secret women's language of Nu Shu, using it to write stories and poems on a fan which they share over the years of their friendship. We follow the girls from their pairing at age 7 well into their later years, sharing in their joy and sorrow. I thouroughly enjoyed this novel, savouring it - as I knew it wouldn't last.
Date published: 2007-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful story Beautifully written, heart wrenching story of two young women and their lifelong friendship. Their trials and tribulations will bring tears to your eyes. You won't want the story to end!
Date published: 2007-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Simply fabulous. This book is enchanting, as not only does it flow smoothly, but, as well, the reader becomes captivated by the story. The author writes a beautiful story in words, but what is most endearing is the culture that lies beneath.
Date published: 2007-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Powerfully Emotional Story of Friendship and Bet Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a deeply personal look into the lifelong friendship of two nineteenth-century Chinese women--a friendship that began when they were paired together as laotongs or ‘old sames’, what we might refer to as ‘soul sisters’. Lily and Snow Flower send messages back and forth, written in the secret women’s language of nu shu. Hidden in the folds of a fan or on delicate handkerchiefs, the messages linked these two women together in a friendship that was more powerful than a marriage. This wonderful, loving and tragic story of friendship and betrayal will teach the reader much about Chinese traditions. The stunning description of the lands, the sights and smells, paints vivid images upon the reader’s mind. But it is the loving friendship of Lily and Snow Flower that will grip your heart and fill it with yearning to have a laotong of your own. What a powerful and emotional story! ~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of The River, Divine Intervention and Whale Song
Date published: 2006-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Excellent! I LOVE reading about China - that's where my daughter was born - and this book has definately become (so far) my favorite. This story is both enchanting and haunting at the same time. Lisa See's poetic and creative ability with the pen has a way of making the reader feel as though you're living and breathing in *that* specific place and time in China. I'd highly recommend it!!!
Date published: 2006-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from enchanting, a must read this is an excellent book and will remain for sure part of my personal collection. It is a wonderfull story full or historical details, althought it is profound and in part tragic, it left me feeling hopefull and strong and respectfull about women, their friendship and their history
Date published: 2006-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully Written, a Breathtaking Piece of Ficti Mesmerizing, beautiful and heartbreaking, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan draws you in immediately and holds your attention until the very end. A wonderful story of friendship and love between friends, and the outside forces that threaten to tear their love apart. If you loved Memoirs of a Geisha, you will love this book!
Date published: 2006-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Beautiful Read! This is a beautiful story that presents the reader with the issues young women endured just before the turn of the century. From foot-binding to arranged marraiages, this story truly touches the heart of the reader. I recommend this to everyone, particularly if you have an interest in asian history, culture and society.
Date published: 2006-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha, you will love this book. It, in my opinion, is better than MOAG. This is a story of China, told through woman's eyes. From footbinding, to arranged marriages and the secret written language of women, it opens your eyes to what life would have been like for women in pre-revolutionary China. I loved it, and hope that you will give it a chance; it will become one of your favourites.
Date published: 2006-04-10

Read from the Book

Chapter 1Milk YearsMy name is Lily. I came into this world on the fifth day of the six month of the third year of Emperor Daoguang’s reign. Puwei, my home village, is in Yongming County, the county of Everlasting Brightness. Most people who live here are descended from the Yao ethnic tribe. From the storytellers who visited Puwei when I was a girl, I learned that the Yao first arrived in this area twelve hundred years ago during the Tang dynasty, but most families came a century later, when they fled the Mongol armies who invaded the north. Although the people of our region have never been rich, we have rarely been so poor that women had to work in the fields.We were members of the Yi family line, one of the original Yao clans and the most common in the district. My father and uncle leased seven mou of land from a rich landowner who lived in the far west of the province. They cultivated that land with rice, cotton, taro, and kitchen crops. My family home was typical in the sense that it had two stories and faced south. A room upstairs was designated for women’s gathering and for unmarried girls to sleep. Rooms for each family unit and a special room for our animals flanked the downstairs main room, where baskets filled with eggs or oranges and strings of drying chilies hung from the central beam to keep them safe from mice, chickens, or a roaming pig. We had a table and stools against one wall. A hearth where Mama and Aunt did the cooking occupied a corner on the opposite wall. We did not have windows in our main room, so we kept open the door to the alley outside our house for light and air in the warm months. The rest of our rooms were small, our floor was hard-packed earth, and, as I said, our animals lived with us.I’ve never thought much about whether I was happy or if I had fun as a child. I was a so-so girl who lived with a so-so family in a so-so village. I didn’t know that there might be another way to live, and I didn’t worry about it either. But I remember the day I began to notice and think about what was around me. I had just turned five and felt as though I had crossed a big threshold. I woke up before dawn with something like a tickle in my brain. That bit of irritation made me alert to everything I saw and experienced that day.I lay between Elder Sister and Third Sister. I glanced across the room to my cousin’s bed. Beautiful Moon, who was my age, hadn’t woken up yet, so I stayed still, waiting for my sisters to stir. I faced Elder Sister, who was four years older than I. Although we slept in the same bed, I didn’t get to know her well until I had my feet bound and joined the women’s chamber myself. I was glad I wasn’t looking in Third Sister’s direction. I always told myself that since she was a year younger she was too insignificant to think about. I don’t think my sisters adored me either, but the indifference we showed one another was just a face we put on to mask our true desires. We each wanted Mama to notice us. We each vied for Baba’s attention. We each hoped we would spend time every day with Elder Brother, since as the first son he was the most precious person in our family. I did not feel that kind of jealousy with Beautiful Moon. We were good friends and happy that our lives would be linked together until we both married out.The four of us looked very similar. We each had black hair that was cut short, we were very thin, and we were close in height. Otherwise, our distinguishing features were few. Elder Sister had a mole above her lip. Third Sister’s hair was always tied up in little tufts, because she did not like Mama to comb it. Beautiful Moon had a pretty round face, while my legs were sturdy from running and my arms strong from carrying my baby brother.“Girls!” Mama called up the stairs to us.That was enough to wake up the others and get us all out of bed. Elder Sister hurriedly got dressed and went downstairs. Beautiful Moon and I were slower, because we had to dress not only ourselves but Third Sister as well. Then together we went downstairs, where Aunt swept the floor, Uncle sang a morning song, Mama—with Second Brother swaddled on her back—poured the last of the water into the teapot to heat, and Elder Sister chopped scallions for the rice porridge we call congee. My sister gave me a tranquil look that I took to mean that she had already earned the approval of my family this morning and was safe for the rest of the day. I tucked away my resentment, not understanding that what I saw as her self-satisfaction was something closer to the cheerless resignation that would settle on my sister after she married out.“Beautiful Moon! Lily! Come here! Come here!”My aunt greeted us this way each and every morning. We ran to her. Aunt kissed Beautiful Moon and patted my bottom affectionately. Then Uncle swooped in, swept up Beautiful Moon in his arms, and kissed her. After he set her back down, he winked at me and pinched my cheek.You know the old saying about beautiful people marrying beautiful people and talented people marrying talented people? That morning I concluded that Uncle and Aunt were two ugly people and therefore perfectly matched. Uncle, my father’s younger brother, had bowlegs, a bald head, and a full shiny face. Aunt was plump, and her teeth were like jagged stones protruding from a karst cave. Her bound feet were not very small, maybe fourteen centimeters long, twice the size of what mine eventually became. I’d heard wicked tongues in our village say that this was the reason Aunt—who was of healthy stock, with wide hips—could not carry a son to term. I’d never heard these kinds of reproaches in our home, not even from Uncle. To me, they had an ideal marriage; he was an affectionate rat and she was a dutiful ox. Every day they provided happiness around the hearth.My mother had yet to acknowledge that I was in the room. This is how it had been for as long as I could remember, but on that day I perceived and felt her disregard. Melancholy sank into me, whisking away the joy I had just felt with Aunt and Uncle, stunning me with its power. Then, just as quickly, the feeling disappeared, because Elder Brother, who was six years older than I was, called me to help him with his morning chores. Having been born in the year of the horse, it is in my nature to love the outdoors, but even more important I got to have Elder Brother completely to myself. I knew I was lucky and that my sisters would hold this against me, but I didn’t care. When he talked to me or smiled at me I didn’t feel invisible.We ran outside. Elder Brother hauled water up from the well and filled buckets for us to carry. We took them back to the house and set out again to gather firewood. We made a pile, then Elder Brother loaded my arms with the smaller sticks. He scooped up the rest and we headed home. When we got there, I handed the sticks to Mama, hoping for her praise. After all, it’s not so easy for a little girl to lug a bucket of water or carry firewood. But Mama didn’t say anything.Even now, after all these years, it is difficult for me to think about Mama and what I realized on that day. I saw so clearly that I was inconsequential to her. I was a third child, a second worthless girl, too little to waste time on until it looked like I would survive my milk years. She looked at me the way all mothers look at their daughters—as a temporary visitor who was another mouth to feed and a body to dress until I went to my husband’s home. I was five, old enough to know I didn’t deserve her attention, but suddenly I craved it. I longed for her to look at me and talk to me the way she did with Elder Brother. But even in that moment of my first truly deep desire, I was smart enough to know that Mama wouldn’t want me to interrupt her during this busy time when so often she had scolded me for talking too loudly or had swatted at the air around me because I got in her way. Instead, I vowed to be like Elder Sister and help as quietly and carefully as I could.Grandmother tottered into the room. Her face looked like a dried plum, and her back bent so far forward that she and I saw eye to eye.“Help your grandmother,” Mama ordered. “See if she needs anything.”Even though I had just made a promise to myself, I hesitated. Grandmother’s gums were sour and sticky in the mornings, and no one wanted to get near her. I sidled up to her, holding my breath, but she waved me away impatiently. I moved so quickly that I bumped into my father—the eleventh and most important person in our household.He didn’t reprimand me or say anything to anyone else. As far as I knew, he wouldn’t speak until this day was behind him. He sat down and waited to be served. I watched Mama closely as she wordlessly poured his tea. I may have been afraid that she would notice me during her morning routine, but she was even more mindful in her dealings with my father. He rarely hit my mother and he never took a concubine, but her caution with him made us all heedful.Aunt put bowls on the table and spooned out the congee, while Mama nursed the baby. After we ate, my father and my uncle set out for the fields, and my mother, aunt, grandmother, and older sister went upstairs to the women’s chamber. I wanted to go with Mama and the other women in our family, but I wasn’t old enough. To make matters worse, I now had to share Elder Brother with my baby brother and Third Sister when we went back outside.I carried the baby on my back as we cut grass and foraged for roots for our pig. Third Sister followed us as best she could. She was a funny, ornery little thing. She acted spoiled, when the only ones who had a right to be spoiled were our brothers. She thought she was the most beloved in our family, although nothing showed her that this was true.Once done with our chores, our little foursome explored the village, going up and down the alleys between the houses until we came across some other girls jumping rope. My brother stopped, took the baby, and let me jump too. Then we went home for lunch—something simple, rice and vegetable only. Afterward, Elder Brother left with the men, and the rest of us went upstairs. Mama nursed the baby again, then he and Third Sister took their afternoon naps. Even at that age I enjoyed being in the women’s chamber with my grandmother, aunt, sister, cousin, and especially my mother. Mama and Grandmother wove cloth, Beautiful Moon and I made balls of yarn, Aunt sat with brush and ink, carefully writing her secret characters, while Elder Sister waited for her four sworn sisters to arrive for an afternoon visit.Soon enough we heard the sound of four pairs of lily feet come quietly up the stairs. Elder Sister greeted each girl with a hug, and the five of them clustered together in a corner. They didn’t like me intruding on their conversations, but I studied them nevertheless, knowing that I would be part of my own sworn sisterhood in another two years. The girls were all from Puwei, which meant that they could assemble often, and not just on special gathering days such as Catching Cool Breezes or the Birds Festival. The sisterhood had been formed when the girls turned seven. To cement the relationship, their fathers had each contributed twenty-five jin of rice, which was stored at our house. Later, when each girl married out, her portion of rice would be sold so her sworn sisters could buy gifts for her. The last bit of rice would be sold on the occasion of the last sworn sister’s marriage. That would mark the end of the sisterhood, since the girls would have all married out to distant villages, where they would be too busy with their children and obeying their mothers-in-law to have time for old friendships.Even with her friends, Elder Sister did not attempt to grab attention. She sat placidly with the other girls as they embroidered and told funny stories. When their chatter and giggles grew loud, my mother sternly hushed them, and another new thought popped into my head: Mama never did that when my grandmother’s late-life sworn sisters came to visit. After her children were grown, my grandmother had been invited to join a new group of five sworn sisters in Puwei. Only two of them plus my grandmother, all widows, were still alive, and they visited at least once a week. They made each other laugh and together they shared bawdy jokes that we girls didn’t understand. On those occasions, Mama was too afraid of her mother-in-law to dare ask them to stop. Or maybe she was too busy.Mama ran out of yarn and stood up to get more. For a moment she stayed very still, staring pensively at nothing. I had a nearly uncontrollable desire to run into her arms and scream, See me, see me, see me! But I didn’t. Mama’s feet had been badly bound by her mother. Instead of golden lilies, Mama had ugly stumps. Instead of swaying when she walked, she balanced herself on a cane. If she put the cane aside, her four limbs went akimbo as she tried to maintain her balance. Mama was too unsteady on her feet for anyone ever to hug or kiss her.“Isn’t it time for Beautiful Moon and Lily to go outside?” Aunt asked, cutting into my mother’s daydream. “They could help Elder Brother with his chores.”“He doesn’t need their help.”“I know,” Aunt admitted, “but it’s a nice day—”

Bookclub Guide

1. In your opinion, is Lily, who is the narrator, the heroine or the villain? What are her flaws and her strengths?2. Do you think the concept of “old sames” exists today? Do you have an “old same,” or are you part of a sworn sisterhood? In what ways are those relationships similar or different from the ones in nineteenth-century China?3. Some men in nineteenth-century China apparently knew about nu shu, the secret women’s writing described in Snow Flower. Why do you think they tolerated such private communication?4. Lily writes her story so that Snow Flower can read it in the afterworld. Do you think she tells her story in a convincing way so that Snow Flower can forgive and understand? Do you think Snow Flower would have told the story differently?5. When Lily and Snow Flower are girls, they have one intimate–almost erotic–moment together Do you think their relationship was sexual or, given the times, were they simply girls who saw this only as an innocent extension of their friendship?6. Having a wife with bound feet was a status symbol for men, and, consequently, having bound feet increased a woman’s chances of marriage into a wealthier household. Women took great pride in their feet, which were considered not only beautiful but also their best and most important feature. As a child, would you have fought against having your feet bound, as Third Sister did, knowing you would be consigned to the life of a servant or a “little daughter-in-law”? As a mother, would you have chosen to bind your daughter’s feet?7. The Chinese character for “mother love” consists of two parts: one meaning “pain,” the other meaning “love.” In your own experience, from the perspective of a mother or a daughter, is there an element of truth to this description of mother love?8. The author sees Snow Flower and the Secret Fan as a novel about love and regret, but do you think there’s also an element of atonement in it as well?9. In the story, we are told again and again that women are weak and worthless. But were they really? In what ways did Lily and Snow Flower show their strength and value?10. Although the story takes place in the nineteenth century and seems very far removed from our lives–we don’t have our feet bound, we’re free and mobile–do you think we’re still bound up in other ways; for instance, by career, family obligations, conventions of feminine beauty, or events beyond our control such as war, the economy, and natural disasters?11. Because of its phonetic nature, nu shu could easily be taken out of context and be misunderstood. Today, many of us communicate though e-mail or instant-messaging. Have you ever had an experience where one of your messages has been misunderstood because of lack of context, facial or body gestures, and tone of voice? Or have you ever been on the receiving end of a message that you misinterpreted and your feelings were hurt?12. Madame Wang, the matchmaker, is a foot-bound woman and yet she does business with men. How is she different from the other women in the story? Do you think she is considered a woman of status or is she merely a necessary evil?

Editorial Reviews

“Powerfully alive, unfolding like a waking dream, haunting, magical, and absolutely impossible to forget.”–The Boston Globe “Both heartbreaking and heartbreakingly lovely . . . immerses the reader in an unimagined world . . . The characters and their surroundings come vibrantly alive.”–The Denver Post“A provocative and affecting portrait.”–Chicago Tribune“A marvel of imagination . . . so mesmerizing the pages float away and the story remains clearly before us from beginning to end.”–Amy Tan, author of Saving Fish from Drowning“Riveting . . . a story that informs as it charms.”–The San Diego Union-Tribune“Extraordinary . . . breathtaking.”–Baltimore Sun“Magical, haunting fiction. Beautiful.”–Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Fifth Book of Peace“[See’s] best book yet . . . a beautifully drawn portrait of female friendship and power.”–The Seattle Times“An engrossing and completely convincing portrayal of a woman shaped by suffering forced upon her from her earliest years, and of the friendship that helps her to survive.”–Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha