I love to read just about anything, as long as it's fiction. I read for me - that means I read what I want, when I want. My reviews tend to mostly be based on how I'm able to personally connect with the story/characters. They are not intended to influence someone to read, or not read, a particular book. I always encourage people to take a chance and make up your own mind.
Oh, and I love chocolate.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is essentially the story of two women and their sworn friendship in 19th century China. I was both captivated and horrified by the life that these woman, and the others around them, had to endure. I’ve not read many books based in Chinese historical fiction, but I’ve read enough to know that the lives of women were not valued beyond their ability to provide sons and serve their husbands. What I didn’t know about was footbinding. Oh dear Lord, those poor girls. I can’t even fathom why the people of that time were driven to smash their daughter’s feet to the size of a thumb. To do this, they had to curl all toes (except the big toe) under and then the arch was broken so the ball of the foot met the heel of the foot. *shiver*
The main character, Lily, is matched with an ‘old same’ (or laotong) named Snow Flower. They were matched at age seven and signed a contracted that stated they would be life-long friends. It was implied that their relationship should be more precious than the marriages to their husbands. The novel spans their life and shows how their friendship evolved over time and was changed by hardships. Lily’s social standing was improved through marriage where Snow Flower’s diminished.
The novel is slow paced, even during the times of significant trials. However, I personally felt the pace was fitting for the integrity of the time period. Women were expected to do nothing more than chores, embroider, and sing. They were not expected to leave their homes unless traveling back to visit their families or visit with contracted friends during special occasions. Their life was slow paced.
While I enjoyed experiencing the friendship between Lily and Snow Flower, I never really got a good sense for how/why they loved each other so deeply. I think maybe it’s because the girls/women were raised to believe that they were not loved by anyone in their family, nor would they be loved by their future family. They were a burden from the moment they were born to the moment they died. In the case of matching two girls together as old sames, a relationship was created for the sole purpose of someone caring about you for the rest of your life. Because of this, and the fact that they were matched based on certain facts of their life, it was hard for me to determine if their love existed for the simple fact that it could, or if it developed over time as they knew each other better. The story is formatted in that it’s being told to the reader by an older Lily, so we don’t get to experience all their moments together. Those that we do get are more intimate physically (not in an inappropriate way) rather than emotionally. While I do believe that the way the friendship developed would have been true to life, I wish the reader had been given more of the experiences rather than just told of their secret conversations.
I also wish there would have been more about the relationship between Lily and her husband. I know it was a book about friendship, and I respect that, but I think I would have understood Lily’s dependence on Snow Flower better had we been given more knowledge of how she interacted with her husband. We were able to see the kind of man Snow Flower’s husband was, but not really Lily’s. The few moments that we did have showed him to be kind and loving. For me, I think this was a missing element of the story that could have made a much larger impact on why Lily felt the way she did and why she reacted the way she did to certain events.
Overall, very good book.