This story revolves around the lives of two friends, Lily and Snow Flower, brought together by a matchmaker with a selfish intention. Their friendship, a very unique one in fact, is called Lao tong (same olds), was bound by a contract, which then bloomed into love. Their matchmaker believed that they're perfect for each other because all their BaZi (8 characters) matched. Thus begun a friendship strengthened by messages written in paper fans, in a secret language called nu shu, a unique writing that Chinese women created to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.
What I enjoyed:
Lisa See had all the elements of a good read in this book. Its main characters were true to themselves, materials were well researched and its plot was a page-turner. I didn't have a favorite character but Lily, the narrator, stood out to me. She was a believer in upholding rules and traditions, and she saw the world in black and white, while Snow Flower was the total opposite. This was a blessing and a curse in their friendship, because it brought them together and almost tore them apart.
The plot thickened when Lily realized how much Snow Flower had been hiding from her all these years. How much can she really trust Snow Flower? Did this Lao tong relationship mean anything to her at all? Or had she been blinded by love? One would not be able to feel all of Lily's emotions - the frustration, confusion and devastation had the character not been developed so brilliantly. I wonder if the tone of the story would be different if it were written from Snow Flower's point of view too.
Lisa See's meticulous research can be seen throughout the entire story. I've learned a lot and I'm deeply fascinated about this foot-binding tradition that existed thousands of years ago. Imagine, the worth of a woman then, was literally bound to her feet! Her toes were crushed and bent towards the heel to achieve a perfect size (7 centimeters) and a beautiful lotus shape, bringing the meaning of 'no pain no gain' to a whole new level. Gosh! Just the mere thought of it makes me cringe!
Life for a married woman was about fulfilling their duties as a daughter, wife, daughter-in-law in the upstairs chamber where women spent their time together doing their daily chores and/learning new skills like writing nu shu. Nu shu allowed them to share secrets and created a very special and intimate bond between the women. This goes to show communication has always been and will always be the core of survival. No man is an island. We need one another.
I've never heard of the lao-tong relationship until I read Snow Flower. This relationship started from the moment women's feet were bound till death do them part. Because their lives were confined in the walls of their natal home, the lao tong relationship gave the women an outlet to be themselves, share secrets and a life beyond their upstairs chamber. It's different from a sworn sisterhood which was made out of several girls and ceased at marriage. A lao tong is between two women and it lasts a lifetime. Not every woman is privileged to have a lao tong. I don't have a lao tong, but I have a lao gong, and we're bound by our love for each other and God :)
I absolutely enjoyed reading every page. Thank you for being such a great companion, Snow Flower and The Secret Fan. Till we meet again.
I attended an event called 'An Evening with Lisa See' organized by our local library, and it was fantastic! Lisa See is such a great speaker as she is an author! She is funny, witty and spontaneous. Her vast knowledge on foot binding and nu shu increased my fascination of the two cultures. I can't wait to read her other books!
Thanks again for coming Lisa See!
Thanks again for coming Lisa See!