Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Book to MovieTitle: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel written by Lisa See
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published by Random House
Page count: 283
Format: Ebook (read on Barnes and Nobles HD+)
Rating: 5/5
Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge #38

Lily, the daughter of a poor farmer in rural China, is nearing the age when her feet will be bound, her bones broken per tradition. Her family hopes that her feet will be small, resembling a perfect golden lily procuring a good marriage into a good family matching their circumstance. When it’s Lily’s turn for the village Diviner to pick the perfect day in which to begin her footbinding process, the Diviner sees the potential for Lily’s feet to produce perfect golden lilies and upon being inspected by a renowned matchmaker from a nearby prosperous village, surprising plans for Lily’s future are put into motion.

Not only will Lily marry into the most prosperous family in that Village, the matchmaker advises that she eligible for a laotong relationship with Snow Flower; a girl of the same age, same spirit but different circumstances.  Accepting each other as laotong they begin a bond meant to be rooted in a love and companionship much deeper and much longer lasting than the marriage between a man and a woman. Throughout their childhood and preparation to become wives the two communicate in nu shu, the secret language of women that is written through the exchange of fans between the two girls in the laotong relationship. When Snow Flower and Lily are married off into their separate households, one has great fortune while the other experiences great hardship and keeping true to themselves…will their relationship stand the trials of marriage and duty, as well as the test of time?

This is a special review post because I read this book and then watched the movie for the 2013 Book to Movie Challenge. I am going to the review the book first and then review the movie.

I want to start off by saying that I absolutely loved, loved, loved this book. It is fiction but it reads like memoir since the story is told in Lily’s perspective.

The story itself is written so beautifully, it is one of those books where the words the author has written and the way the words are strung together is so beautiful and graceful…even when the subject is a harsh one. I love that the story was written so beautifully since what this book is about is women. Sure there are men throughout the book what it really is about is women…their work, their suffering, and their lives in China during this period in which women were not valued as much more than property.

I loved both Lily and Snow Flower as characters. I really liked their relationship…it was so complicated yet really simple at the same time. Sometimes they seemed the best of friends, twin sisters, and even sometimes they were as intimate as lovers. It was truly a beautiful friendship between two women in a period when women and their lives/futures were so controlled. They were rebellious in nature, these two, and sometimes stretched the lines of tradition, one more so than the other.

I loved this book because of everything it put me through. I was horrified one moment, happy, and then sad the next. It was a truly gripping story and just reminds you of the pain these women went through in order to be considered beautiful. Their bones were literally broken so that the curves of their feet looked like lilies and were really small. The smaller golden lilies were the most prized.

This book is just gorgeous and heartbreaking. I laughed and I cried. I couldn’t put this one down. If you’re a historical fiction fan or just looking for something beautiful to read…read this book!

Now for the movie! Since I loved the book so much I couldn’t wait to watch the movie so I finished the book last night and watching the movie firs thing this morning. Although I loved the movie as well, like most cases the book was so much better than the movie. The book just offers a whole different amount of depth and feeling to the story that I don’t feel the movie was able to capture.

The movie definitely has a different feel to it as it starts in the present day with two girls who modern young girls who have vowed to be laotong…once again they come from very different backgrounds. It tells the story not only of Snowflower and Lily but also of these two girls who have lost touch somewhere in the adult lives so it moves back and forth between present day China and the China of the nineteenth century.  As we are taken through Snowflower and Lily’s journey, so we are also taken through theirs. When one of them ends up in a devastating accident and is in a coma, the other girl finds a manuscript written by her laotong telling the story of Snowflower and Lily.

I felt like nu shu and the footbinding tradition were stressed throughout the book but not really so much so in the movie so the movie was definitely more Hollywood. I feel like the reading the book gave me a deeper meaning to the movie as well. The book is definitely more detailed and explains the laotong relationship and Chinese traditions more.

It was interesting in the movie to see the past influence the present and see some things in the past never change as we travel to the present. I also think it’s just always interesting to be able to glimpse a peak of the past and a different culture through books and movies. Overall though, it was a beautiful movie and an even more beautiful book so as always I recommend reading the book first! The movie leaves ALOT out so the book will fill in the blanks and is just so beautiful.

I want to leave you with two of my favorite quotes that will illustrate the beauty of the writing in this book. I hope you enjoy them!

“So here I am alone with my thoughts and this fan before me. When I pick it up, it’s strange how light it feels in my hands, for it records so much joy and so much grief. I open it quickly, and the sound each fold makes as it spreads reminds me of a fluttering heart. Memories tear across my eyes. These last forty years, I have read it so many times that it is memorized like a childhood song.”

“…I realized the true purpose of our secret writing. It was not to compose girlish notes to each other or even to introduce us to the women in our husband’s families. It was to give us a voice. Our nu shu was a means for our bound feet to carry us to each other, for our thoughts to fly across the fields…”

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