Snow Flower and the Secret Fan wins the Southern California Booksellers Association Award for Best Novel of 2005.
Lisa See on women’s friendship and the secret written language at the heart of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
by MICHELLE HUNEVEN
LA Weekly, July 8
Lisa See, whose red hair and pale skin obscure her Chinese ancestry, arrives at the F. Suie One Company in Pasadena bearing dim sum — bao buns, shumai, stickers. A mysterious and rarely open Asian antiquities shop, F. Suie One has been in See’s family for a hundred years. As a child, when the shop was still at its original Chinatown location, the author played in the rickshaw and in a great carved wooden bed — as large as a small bedroom.
Over lunch, we discuss her fourth novel and fifth book, the enchanting Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Some years ago, See learned of the secret women’s written language nushu, and her fascination with it took her to Hunan’s Jiangyong County for research. The book is the story of a friendship between two young women who communicate through nushu in this remote, agriculturally lush and culturally repressive region during the 19th century.
L.A. WEEKLY: Where does this book sit in your oeuvre? On Gold Mountain is a memoir. Then came the three mysteries. And now a literary novel?
From the Los Angeles Times:
See’s translucent prose style gleams with the beauty of 19th century Chinese culture but also makes us burn with indignation at its sexist ugliness and injustice. By bringing the secret world of these Chinese women into vivid relief, See has conjured up an alien world that is the better for being lost. Read the full review.
From the Washington Post:
Through See’s careful, detailed descriptions of life in a remote 19th-century Chinese village, we experience a world where women spend their days in upstairs chambers, kowtowing to elders, serving tea and communicating in nu shu. She reveals to us the horrors of foot binding (foot bent back, bones broken and reshaped), a young girl’s innocent dreams of life in a new home mingled with fears of being married off to a stranger, and the obsession with bearing sons. Woven through all this is the friendship between Lily and Snow Flower, which is compromised when Lily misinterprets a letter from her friend, cutting herself off from the one person she loves most. Years later, when Lily begins to understand her own failings and the depth of Snow Flower’s affection for her, it is too late. She must find other ways to seek forgiveness and make amends. The wonder of this book is that it takes readers to a place at once foreign and familiar — foreign because of its time and setting, yet familiar because this landscape of love and sorrow is inhabited by us all. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a triumph on every level, a beautiful, heartbreaking story. ·Read the full review
Snow Flower is an Entertainment Weekly Editor’s Choice and an A rating. “You can relish See’s extraordinary fourth novel as a meticulously researched account of women’s lives in 19th century China, where it is “better to have a dog than a daughter…. You can also savor See’s marvelous narrative as a timeless portrait of a contentious, full-blooded female friendship, one that includes, over several decades, envy, betrayal, erotic love, and deep-seated loyalty.”
Snow Flower is a one of Good Housekeeping’s 10 Fictional Babes We’d Like You to Read This Summer.
“A longing for connection is at the disciplined heart of Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a novel set in a remote province of 19th-century China. For Lily and Snow Flower, lifelong friends and prisoners of domestic tradition, the coded women’s language of nu shu was “a means for our bound feet to carry us to each other…to write the truth about our lives.” Intimate revelations about betrayal and forgiveness artfully bridge the cultural divide.” O Magazine
“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.” Publishers Weekly
“See’s writing is intricate and graceful, and her attention to detail never wavers, making for a lush, involving reading experience.” Booklist
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has been selected by America’s independent booksellers as their Number 1 pick for July for Booksense. Books are available through www.Booksense.com .
Advance rave reviews for Lisa’s new novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan:
A nuanced exploration of women’s friendship and women’s writing in a remote corner of Imperial China.
At the end of her life, Lady Lily Lu, the 80-year-old matriarch of Tongkou village, sits down to write her final memoir—one that will be burned at her death. Using nu shu, a secret script designed and kept by women, Lily spends her final years recounting her training as a woman, her longing for love and the central friendship of her life. Born, in 1823, into an ordinary farming family, Lily might not have ended up as a wealthy matriarch. Her earliest memories are of running through the fields outside with her cousin Beautiful Moon in the last days before her foot-binding. But in childhood, Lily’s middle-class fate changed dramatically when the local diviner suggested that her well-formed feet made her eligible for a high-status marriage and for a special ceremonial friendship with a laotong (sworn bosom friend). Accordingly, Lily became laotong with Snow Flower, a charming girl from an upper-class household. Together, the two begin a friendship and intimate nu shu correspondence that develops with them through years of house training, marriages, childbirths and changes in social status. See (Dragon Bones, 2003, etc.) is fascinated by imagining how women with constrained existences might have found solace—and poetry—within the unexpected, little known writing form that is nu shu. Occasionally, in the midst of notes about childbirth and marriages, Lily and Snow Flower wonder how to understand the value of their secret writing in relation to the men’s “outside world.” The question is left delicately open. As the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64) approaches the villages around them, threatening to disrupt the social order, Lily and Snow Flower’s private intimacy changes, stretches and is strained. Taut and vibrant, the story offers a delicately painted view of a sequestered world and provides a richly textured account of how women might understand their own lives.
A keenly imagined journey into the women’s quarters
From Publisher’s Weekly:
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. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. Author tour . (July)