Among historical fiction, my most favorite books are about Japan and China. The history of these two countries holds a lot of mystery, exoticism and secrets. Therefore, I was very excited to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Unfortunately, having finished the book I felt a little disappointed.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a story of two seven-year-old girls growing up in nineteenth-century China. Lily and Snow Flower become laotongs, friends for life, two girls who are bound by a promise to always stay true to each other and love each other as only women can. Together they suffer through footbinding at the age of seven, they make preparations for their arranged marriages and grow emotionally closer and closer to each other. The only constant in their life is a secret silk fan on which Lily and Snow Flower compose messages in nu shu, a secret language used only by women, untouched by the male influence. The secret fan becomes a recording of the girls' hopes, trials, thoughts and emotions as they live their lives apart from each other, in the houses of their new husbands where they are treated as foreigners and servants. However, their strong bond is suddenly threatened by a misunderstanding that can have potentially severe consequences.
Ms. See is certainly a very skilled writer. Through the voice of Lily, she vividly evoked the sufferings and injustices women were subjected to in 19th century China. As I read about the cruel tradition of footbinding or the years of preparation for the marriage which is arranged when a girl is seven and is finalized at the age of seventeen, I was both mesmerized and indignant. Lily and Snow Flower are at once perfect examples of obedient daughters and wives and of free spirits always wanting to soar above the canons of tradition set upon them by men. As they grew, I found myself growing with them. With that written, I also felt that the book wasn't as engaging as I would have liked. I honestly can't quite put a finger on what it was but my overall impression was that the book fell a little flat. Besides the two girls, all other characters lacked depth and not enough time was devoted to their development. I would have liked very much to know more about Lily's mother and how she got to be so detached from her daughter, or about the tragic fates of Snow Flowers family. There were numerous characters that could have been very exciting to get more acquainted with but Ms. See for some reason chose to concentrate mainly on Lily and Snow Flower. All and all, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of the very few books that could benefit from being longer instead of shorter. Because Lisa See's writing is not boring in the very least, I would have loved this book had its characters been more developed and had it concentrated on several parallel stories instead of just one.