By Karen Flores, Arts and Entertainment Editor
When I was 13 years old, my aunt gave me a book for my birthday. It was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Little did I know this would be one of my favorite books of all time and that Lisa See would become one of my favorite authors as well. I have always had an interest in Chinese culture and reading a book such as this one helped me learn a bit about its history. While some people may not like historical fiction, this is a book I would recommend to everyone.
The novel is about two girls, the protagonist named Lily and her best friend named Snow Flower. At the age of seven, they were pledged into a life-long friendship because their birthdays match and that was a sign of good fortune. During 19th century China, women were not allowed to read or write, but the women in the novel spoke nu shu, a language that only women could speak and understand. One day when Lily and Snow Flower were out at the marketplace, they bought a fan where they wrote down important dates and promises to each other,
They went through many phases of life together including footbinding which was a Chinese custom where women would bind their feet and break their bones until their feet were a specific shape and size as a symbol of their obedience. They were also called lotus feet. This could change the fate of a young woman as it did for Lily as she was considered to have the perfect bound feet. They continued to remain friends through much heartbreak, suffering and pain.
Eventually Lily and Snow Flower have disagreements and their friendship is put to the test. The ending is probably the part that always seems to leave me thinking about how much our actions impact people.
The book is very rooted in the themes of friendship, love, loss, and family structure. Women in ancient China were seen as temporary family members as they were just cared for until they were ready to be married off to another family. The book uses the term teng ai. The first character of the word means pain and the second means love. This is used to describe what motherly love was like for women and in the book Lily does not get love from her mother and her mother helping her through the footbinding process was the closest thing she got to her mother showing her love.
I think that this plays a role in why friendship is so significant in the book because Lily and Snow Flower experienced what nurturing and true love was from each other. Their friendship allowed them to understand each other and their way of thinking in ways that they could not get from their families.
The book is about their struggles, successes, losses and most of all the memories they created together. It is a very culturally rich book and I would recommend it for anyone who likes a bittersweet ending to give this one a go. I’ve had my copy from my aunt for 7 years now, if that isn’t a sign it’s a good book then I don’t know what is.