Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
by Lisa See
With much consideration, I give this book 4 stars.
From the very beginning, I became enthralled with foot binding. Call it a morbid fascination if you will, but I longed to understand the culture better to know why this torture was done in the name of fashion.
The story flowed well and held my unwavering interest until the Rice and Salt years. I am sure I could have written this section much better. At times I found it choppy. This section alone, because of the dragging seemed to emphasize the “Oh, somebody died! Oh, something horrible happened!” undercurrent that plagued this book. Luckily, I was able to rise above that and see through to the story of life-long friendship.
Truthfully, if you can get past the doom and gloom that I’m sure accompanied this time period in China’s history, it’s a beautiful story about innocent childhood love, about finding your same-sex soulmate and how even though humans try to be completely open and honest with each other, it is in our nature to hide the painful and humiliating parts of our lives. And that as humans, we really don’t want to hear other people’s tales of woe, that even in deep, abiding friendships, we are perhaps not as compassionate as we could be, even to those we love.
Ask yourself this: When is the last time someone asked you how your day was and you gave a completely honest and open answer? Do you usually give the ritualized, expected pat answer of, “Fine”, because we all know that people really DON’T want to hear how you are? Or were you completely open and honest? And if you were, did people’s eyes glaze over or did they find an excuse to scurry away? Because, that is something that seems to happen often in our culture. We just expect everyone to say, “Oh, fine!” so we can carry on about our business, wrapped in our selfish, self-insulated cocoon we build ourselves and only concern ourselves with our own worries.
Apparently in China, way back when, it was different. Everyone acknowledged suffering. But EVERYONE experienced the same sort of suffering, which apparently made the suffering ok in that culture. Instead of the pat answer of “Oh, fine!”, women would complain to other women with standard answers about being unworthy, worthless and a disappointment. I’m not sure this is better than American culture today, but perhaps it was more honest. Perhaps if you were suffering and you knew that others were suffering as well, it made your burden more bearable. Where in comparison, “Oh, fine!” makes it sound like life is good for other people, and deep down we may feel our lives suck, leaving us to feel worse about our own life, because everyone else’s is apparently peachy keen! (Hmm… I wonder if there is a higher rate of teen suicide because of this practice per capita. I suppose we can’t exactly go back and do a study now…)
Anyways, I liked the overall theme of the story, and I enjoyed the setting, even if the book itself was grim in many places. It’s definitely worth a read to get a glimpse into another culture and learn about some not too long ago practices of their bygone eras. I do not think I particularly want to see the film though. Might be a bit too depressing.