Sunday, October 20, 2013

snow flower & the secret fan

snow flower & the secret fan
lisa see
random house
published 2005

Lily is haunted by memories–of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness.

In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu (“women’s writing”). Some girls were paired with laotongs, “old sames,” in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.

With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become “old sames” at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

In the beginning of Snow Flower & the Secret Fan we learn all about foot binding.  I had gone to the Field Museum in Chicago years ago with my brother and saw shoes that women whose feet had been bound wore and I couldn't wrap my mind around it.  Reading about it was both fascinating and horrifying.  Looking at pictures of women's bound feet on Google was worse.  When talking about her aunt's feet Lily says:
Her bound feet were not very small, maybe fourteen centimeters long, twice the size of what mine eventually became.
Just in case you're not sure what that is in inches it's 5.5 inches.  Which means Lily's feet end up being about 3.25 inches long.  And if you're like me and had to Google how many inches is 14 centimeters you might have seen that below the answer, the second link was a Wikipedia article on the average male's penis size.  Weird.

Anyhoo....that just nearly blew my mind.  At one point she describes someone's foot as being about the size of a thumb.  A tiny, Chinese woman's thumb.

This is chick lit at it's finest.  A story not about a woman's quest for love, children and happiness, but about the most important relationship a woman will ever have.  That with her best friend.

I love the way that Lisa See wrote the story, through the mouth of Lily as she is remembering her life now that she is in her 'Sitting Quietly' days late into her 80's.  Sometimes she remarks on how she cannot explain how she felt at some point or how she can never get that feeling or image out of her mind.  Her honesty is her atonement for what she let go in her life.  At times I could see myself in both women, although I could see my faults were similar to Lily's.

I thought about my mother and how she's been best friends with my Auntie (who is not really my Auntie) since they were girls.  Like old sames.  One Japanese, one Chinese.  They've seen each other through so much and they will always been sames.  I think that they even went to see this movie together!

Love.  What it all came down to is women's love.  The love we yearn for from our mothers, the love we have for our friends, our sames, and love that we try to show our daughters when we sometimes are being harder on them than they understand.  It's showing our mother-love.

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