You wouldn’t have wanted to be a girl living in rural China 200 years ago. Ever since she was a baby, Lily knew that to be a girl meant you were destined for a hard life. You must obey your elders, especially your father. You must obey your husband. You must work very hard to show that you are worth even the food you eat. Yet, as Lily comes to find out, there is a discreet female world in which friendships are cherished, beauty is created and new life is celebrated. Even as her feet are bound and she is trained to be married out, Lily finds morsels of joy — especially through her truest friend, Snow Flower.
Snow Flower and Lily communicate in the secret language that is taught by women, and this book is mostly a narrative of their relationship, how it grows and changes as they become women and start separate married lives. As we become immersed in the China of Lily’s day, we come to realize how agonizing women’s lives could be and how limited they were in the choices they could make.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an incredibly readable book. It’s written as a sort of autobiography, and so we are seeing the past through Lily’s experience and hindsight. While I like the style, I’ll be honest, all the foreshadowing was very frustrating. It made for a less exploratory reading experience for me and, in some ways, tainted my view of Lily as a character. I suppose, though, I appreciated how seriously she took her actions and was honest about her regret. I just wish I could’ve read about it AFTER the actions happened and not before.
Otherwise, this story just DRIPS with China and Chinese culture and tradition. I really loved that about it — I loved that these women and their common life experiences were given a voice. As a story of a friendship and as an intimate look behind the latticed upper windows of the women’s chambers in a China of not-so-long-ago, this book is definitely worth trying.
Rated: Moderate for one mildly graphic female/female sexual scene and a general theme of married sex throughout the book