Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

by Lisa See

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A language kept a secret for a thousand years forms the backdrop for an unforgettable novel of two Chinese women whose friendship and love sustains them through their lives.

This absorbing novel – with a storyline unlike anything Lisa See has written before – takes place in 19th century China when girls had their feet bound, then spent the rest of their lives in seclusion with only a single window from which to see.  Illiterate and isolated, they were not expected to think, be creative, or have emotions. But in one remote county, women developed their own secret code, nu shu – "women's writing" – the only gender-based written language to have been found in the world.  Some girls were paired as "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 windows to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.

An old woman tells of her relationship with her "old-same," their arranged marriages, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood—until a terrible misunderstanding written on their secret fan threatens to tear them apart. With the detail and emotional resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha , Snow Flower and the Secret Fan delves into one of the most mysterious and treasured relationships of all time—female friendship.



A subtly stirring novel.Vogue

It’s hard to imagine that someone could write a better novel. The prose is elegant, the voice sure, the story unforgettable—at times punishing in its authenticity.

With Snow Flower, See has written a novel that ranks with the best fiction of Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston, the modern luminaries of Chinese storytelling.”

— Philadelphia Inquirer

This is a fascinating portrait of a time and place alive with beauty and brutality.”

— USA Today

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. SnowFlower and the Secret Fan is a triumph on every level, a beautiful, heartbreaking story.”— Washington Post

A beautifully composed work.” — Boston Globe

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.”— Los Angeles Times

A stunning setup for describing a culture inside a story, and Lisa See takes full advantage of it. On every page, she provides fascinating details of the lives of women in China.”

San Diego Union Tribune

In her fourth book, See has triumphed, writing an achingly beautiful, understated and absorbing story of love. . . . Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is so rich in psychology, feminine high stakes and marital intrigue that it evokes the work of Jane Austen. The warring matchmakers are marvelous characters, and the story made me recall the girl closest to my own laotong. See’s novel contains all the elements —joy, knowledge, betrayal, erotica — that give female friends a power over each other that husbands cannot match.”

—Cleveland Plain Dealer

Exquisitely poetic and thought-provoking.”— New Orleans Times-Picayune

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.’ (And where the girls' feet are bound in a stomach-turning ritual that See describes with admirable precision and coolness.) But 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.” —Entertainment Weekly (Continued)

Fascinating.”— Detroit Free Press

 See uses a telephoto lens to give us an intimate view of festivals and famine, of customs and superstitions, all through the details of the ‘inner realm’ of women. The cultural insights are fascinating, but in the end this is a love story, with all the passion, betrayal, and regret that comes with the territory.”—Body and Soul magazine

See's fluid language, her re-creation of Lily and Snow Flower's world, is engaging. . . . Seeably illuminates the roots of Lily and Snow Flower's heartbreaking passivity, allowing us to identify with them enough to recognize the meaning of their lives despite the cultural restrictions of their time.”―San Francisco Chronicle

A provocative and affecting portrait of women in 19th Century China.”

Chicago Tribune

 See’s writing is intricate and graceful, and her attention to detail never wavers, making for a lush, involving reading experience. This beautiful tale should have wide appeal.”―Booklist

 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.”

—Kirkus Reviews

 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. . .. 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, starred review

I was entranced by this wondrous book―the story of a secret civilization of women who actually lived in China not long ago. . . . Magical, haunting fiction. Beautiful.”

—Maxine Hong Kingston

 Achingly beautiful, 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.”―Amy Tan


On Writing Snow Flower

by Lisa See

One day in the 1960s, an old woman fainted in a rural Chinese train station. When police searched her belongings in an effort to identify her, they came across papers with what looked to be a secret code written on them. This being the height of the Cultural Revolution, the woman was arrested and detained on suspicion of being a spy. The scholars who came to decipher the code realized almost at once that this was not something related to international intrigue. Rather, it was a written language used solely by women and it had been kept a “secret” from men for a thousand years. Those scholars were promptly sent to labor camp. READ MORE

Sample Chapter

Sitting Quietly

I am what they call in our village “one who has not yet died”—a widow, eighty years old. Without my husband, the days are long. I no longer care for the special foods that Peony and the others prepare for me. I no longer look forward to the happy events that settle under our roof so easily. Only the past interests me now. After all this time, I can finally say the things I couldn't when I had to depend on my natal family to raise me or rely on my husband's family to feed me. I have a whole life to tell; I have nothing left to lose and few to offend. READ MORE.
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