Tuesday, Jan 27, 2009
Author: Lisa See
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 269 Paperback
Type: Women’s Fiction
So, Lisa (Books On The Brain) and I were chatting about books when I saw her a couple of weeks ago. She mentioned to me how much she liked Lisa See’s books. I recalled her review on Peony in Love and had it in the back of my mind for a read this year. Lisa went on to tell me that she liked Snow Flower & The Secret Fan even BETTER than Peony, although she loved Peony. She strongly recommended the books.
Circa to my trip to the used book store. I did my friend Julie a favor by taking two boxes of books to the nearby used bookstore. They sorted through them and purchased what they liked. A $15 credit was issued. I looked for all sorts of books that I needed for my bookclub to buy with this credit. NO LUCK! Nothing I needed in stock. I cruised around aimlessly looking. I came across a “New Books” section. There, on the shelf at my eye-level, Snow Flower and Peony. Of course, the credit cannot be used on new books, so I ended up purchasing both. I didn’t care… Lisa is very never wrong when it comes to books. Plus, when I was purchasing them, the gal who worked there told me that she loved both books, especially Snow Flower. Well… hmmm… I’m intrigued. BTW: I got two Jodi Picoult books for Julie with the credit.
So, after I finished my last book, I was excited to start a new one and although Snow Flower was the newest to the “To Be Read” pile, it was on top. Sorry, books who had been longingly waiting for me… you’ll have to wait longer. I started Snow Flower and Lisa was right. I loved loved loved it. I’m seriously thinking that January is my best reading month EVER! I’ve read more great books this month than I can ever remember doing before. Now, back to Snow Flower… it’s a lovely, extremely well written novel that captures your heart and you are so attached to the main characters, Snow Flower and Lily, that you simply can’t put the book down. As so it was, I didn’t. I devoured this book and feel that I’m going to have to show some restraint not to start Peony right away!
Snow Flower and The Secret Fan is an epic tale of the true bonds of friendship and family between two women, Lily and Snow Flower. The story is told by Lily, who has survived an abnormally long life for her generation and has outlived nearly all of her relatives. It is only in the safety of that fact that she feels she is able to share her inner truth and her secrets. The story is one of the Chinese rural culture in the 19th century in which Lily was born in 1823 and tells her tale in approximately 1903. Lily shares her life story in which she reveals the culture, customs, and truth about their way of life. As a young girl, she is destined for an arranged marriage and her footbinding is a necessary preparation for such. Lily shares her memories of her “Milk Years” which are the days of her youth before the torture of the foot binding process. A matchmaker arrives at her home and informs her parents that she may have the feet, beauty and refinement required to have a special friendship called a laotong in addition to marriage to a well-positioned citizen. These are the times of dowries and customs surrounding the match-making in marriages that all the plans are discussed at her young age of 6. Her footbinding was to begin, along with her sisters’ at age 7.
The commitment to form the laotong relationship is also solidified. Lily is to form this friendship with a lovely girl named Snow Flower from a village much more prosperous than hers. She is better bred and from a wealthier family. However, other than that difference, all other requirements for the laotong are in place. Lily also prepares for this arranged relationship that is a sworn relationship for life that includes a contract and a fee. The matchmaker travels with the girls to a festival for them to connect and write their contract in addition to the temple for prayer and meditation. Lily and Snow Flower do find this connection and their life-long relationship commences.
The book takes the reader through Lily’s lifetime including the tormented days of the footbinding process (see article and photos below). I discovered in reading this novel that one in every ten girls died from this process. That’s just insane to me, however I understand that all cultures are different and times were much different. Women, at that time, held no value… I suppose, other than for breeding. The reader is able to experience all of the rites of passage in these girls’ lives including their marriages and childbearing years. Lily and Snow Flower communicate over the years via writing nu shu, a secret women’s language. The majority of the important writing is conducted in poems on a fan that they share. Snow Flower has penned them as a pair of Mandarin Ducks. (Aren’t they beautiful?).
I could write and write about the intense nature of this story, the poetic form in which it was written, and the intricate storyline that it carries. But, you will discover that for yourself when you treat yourself and pick yourself up a copy… a little love Valentine JUST FOR YOU. It will remind you of the deep love within a woman.. for her husband, her life-long best friend, and her children. It will reaffirm your gratefulness for the ability to live in a world in which women have rights to live the life they choose to. It will make you glad for modern medicine and the ability we have to live a life past the age of 40!
The other thing that I found highly respectable about Lisa See is that she went to the villages in China and actually spoke to the families and the women about this time in history. She saw and heard this information first hand and relayed it to the readers in utter perfection. I personally thank her for doing that as I find the book reflects such historical accuracy in addition to the haunting tale.
Here is an article (with photos) about the footbinding that occurred in China. You will be shocked.
Footbinding: From Status Symbol to Subjugation
Legend has it that the origins of footbinding go back as far as the Shang dynasty (1700-1027 B.C.). The Shang Empress had a clubfoot, so she demanded that footbinding be made compulsory in the court.
But historical records from the Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) date footbinding as beginning during the reign of Li Yu, who ruled over one region of China between 961-975. It is said his heart was captured by a concubine, Yao Niang, a talented dancer who bound her feet to suggest the shape of a new moon and performed a “lotus dance.”
During subsequent dynasties, footbinding became more popular and spread from court circles to the wealthy. Eventually, it moved from the cities to the countryside, where young girls realized that binding their feet could be their passport to social mobility and increased wealth.
When the Manchu nobility came to power in 1644, they tried to ban the practice, but with little success. The first anti-footbinding committee was formed in Shanghai by a British priest in 1874.
But the practice wasn’t outlawed until 1912, when the Qing dynasty had already been toppled by a revolution. Beginning in 1915, government inspectors could levy fines on those who continued to bind their feet. But despite these measures, footbinding still continued in various parts of the country.
A year after the Communists came to power in 1949, they too issued their own ban on footbinding. According to the American author William Rossi, who wrote The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe, 40 percent to 50 percent of Chinese women had bound feet in the 19th century. For the upper classes, the figure was almost 100 percent.
Some estimate that as many as 2 billion Chinese women broke and bound their feet to attain this agonizing ideal of physical perfection. Author Yang Yang says that women with tiny feet were a status symbol who would bring honor upon the entire clan by their appearance.
“Some married women with bound feet would even get up in the middle of the night to start their toilette, just to ensure they would look good in daytime,” he says.
In Liuyicun, the practice persisted so long because of the village’s economic prosperity — and its inhabitants’ desire for obvious wealth signifiers, like daughters with bound feet.
Some scholars say footbinding deepened female subjugation by making women more dependent on their men folk, restricting their movements and enforcing their chastity, since women with bound feet were physically incapable of venturing far from their homes.
Certainly the “three-inch golden lotuses” were seen as the ultimate erogenous zone, with Qing dynasty pornographic books listing 48 different ways of playing with women’s bound feet.
For those unfortunate women who paid the ultimate price for beauty, there was little choice involved.
Liuyicun resident Wang Lifen, 79, describes her own attitude as a child, saying, “I didn’t want to bind my feet, but the whole village told me that I had to. So I did.”
And 86-year-old Zhou Guizhen says, “At that time everybody had bound feet. If you didn’t, you’d only be able to marry a tribesman from an ethnic minority.”
These women disfigured their feet to guarantee their own future, but according to Yang Yang, this act ultimately consigned them to tragic lives. Most of Liuyicun’s bound-feet women were forced to perform hard physical labor in the late 1950s, digging reservoirs, for example — work which was punishing enough for ordinary women, but agonizing for those with tiny, misshapen feet.
Their families also suffered food shortages as they were often unable to fulfill their production quotas at work, or walk into the mountains to pick vegetables and fruit like other mothers.
“Their tiny feet sealed their tragic fates,” Yang says.
You Can Meet Lisa See…
I found on her website that she has some book signings coming up that are actually do-able for me living here in California. If you are nearby any of these locations and a fan… you’ll be in for a treat…. Lisa, want to go to Buena Park?
9:15 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Talk, and signing
Shadelands Art Center
111 N. Wiget Lane
Walnut Creek, CA
Event details & information contact Margaret Garms at firstname.lastname@example.org
February 8, 2009
Lunch, talk, and signing
Fundraiser for the Fullerton Public Library
Los Coyotes Country Club
8888 Los Coyotes Dr.
Buena Park, CA.
For information: 714- 738-3366
11:30 to 2:00
Meet the Authors Luncheon
Pacific Golf and Country Club
200 La Plata
San Clemente, CA
For information call Sue Peltz at 949-361-5789
or Rachael Mitchell at 949-492-1913
March 14, 2009
10:00 a.m. -1p.m.
American Association of University Women
Alhambra-San Gabriel Branch Presents
Literary Brunch and Book Signing
Featuring Lisa See
Church of the Good Shepherd, United Methodist Church
Jordan Hall, 400 W. Duarte Rd.
For information: 626-570-9784
March 21, 2009
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m
Delta Nu Chapter of the
Delta Kappa Gamma Society International Presents
Literary Brunch and Book Signing
Covina Woman’s Club
128 S. San Jose
For information and tickets call:
Diane at (626) 335-5926 or
Jackie at (626) 334-9892
L.A. Times Book Festival
Next on My Lisa See List:
On Sher’s “Out of 10 Scale:”
In rating this book in the genre: Women’s Fiction/Historical Fiction, I would rate this book an 10 out of 10! This book was remarkable to me in every way. I only hope that it is eventually made into a movie, because it would make an amazing one. Like I said above, take my advice… treat yourself to a copy of this book if you haven’t already read it. Peony, in some ways, is a sequel…(just found out… not a sequel like I assumed) so, you might as well grab them both. Lisa is coming out with a new book in May 2009 published by Random House, Shanghai Girls. I’m very much looking forward to it!
Okay, Lisa… we’re off to meet Lisa See! I’m hooked!