Tuesday, November 11, 2008

2nd Tuesday of the month


Can it already be? Why, yes it is. Book Club night!!!
This month's selection is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of those books that sneaks up on you as you're reading it--slowly, slowly--then wham (!), just like that, you're in love.

The book is set in 19th century China in a remote province. Snow Flower and Lily are "laotongs", intimate friends bound together for life by a matchmaker. When the book opens, 80-year-old Lily is remembering her life, beginning in her small village home. The traveling matchmaker visits the village and deems that young Lily is special because she has perfect feet that when properly bound will form the most sought after shape--that of golden lilies. "Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace."

Although the women are inferior to men and only seen as a commodity to their fathers and subsequently their husbands, they eke out a special world of friendship wherein they share their innermost dreams, fears, and hopes. The provincial Chinese women communicate through `nu shu', a secret written code on the folds of their fans (thus, the title). This secret language connects the women on a level that transcends their daily trials.

Lily and Snow Flower are both born under the sign of the horse, but their lives are very different. Lily, the more practical, has a humble beginning as the daughter of a poor, but respected farmer. Eventually, however, her beautiful feet allow her to marry into a prosperous and powerful family. Snow Flower, the dreamer, marries a butcher and suffers through a life of pain, sorrow, and disappointment.

Even though they're laotongs, the women's relationship changes until Lily eventually breaks the bond between them.

The story of Snow Flower and Lily is a convincing portrayal of the universality of the push/pull between love and hate, betrayal and forgiveness, the changing nature of friendships, and the constraints society puts on individuals and their dreams.

5 stars.

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