Monday, April 14, 2008

Snow Flower And The Secret Fan

Set in 19th Century rural China, this story guides readers through the ancient and sometimes cruel rituals that befall women in both the families they are born into and the families they marry into. Girls are taught from birth that they are worthless and a drain on the family. Lily, the main character, hears her mother say that raising daughters is like "building a road only for others to use." Feet are bound to produce the desired "golden lilies" that make girls attractive and marriageable even while it handicaps them and makes their work so much more difficult to do. As compensation, women are allowed sworn sisterhoods or, in special circumstances, a laotong which means "old same". Lily, the narrator of the story, is allowed one of these laotongs whose name is Snow Flower. They are from different villages but born on the same day, same year, same height, feet bound on the same day etc... They sign a contract and learn a secret women's written language called Nu Shu and write to each other from the age of seven on a fan.

Here, the story becomes timeless as the two women grow, change and struggle through puberty, arranged marriages, childbirth and living with new familes to keep their friendship true. Although these women were taught to believe they are without value, except for pleasing their in-laws, husbands and sons, they display the same hurt and jealousy when they feel ignored, unloved or betrayed. The destinies of these two women are very different and their love for each other is challenged when both feel misunderstood.

You will learn so much about an ancient culture as well as recognizing some of your own weaknesses if you read this book. I sure did.

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