Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
A NovelBook - 2005
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.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a brilliantly realistic journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. With the period detail and deep resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.
From the critics
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Many memorable quotes in Goodreads:
“Beautiful Moon, we hope the flower tower brings you peace. We hope you forget about us, but we will never forget you. We will honor you. We will clean your grave at Spring Festival. Do not let your thoughts run wild. Live in your flower tower and be happy.”
“She loved you as a laotong should for everything that you were and everything you were not,” Plum Blossom concluded. “But you had too much man-thinking in you. You loved her as a man would, valuing her only for following men’s rules.”
“My writing is soaked with the tears of my heart, An invisible rebellion that no man can see. Let our life stories become tragic art. Oh, Mama, oh, sisters, hear me, hear me.”
“The bed is lit by moonlight. I think it is the light snow of an early winter morning. Looking up, I enjoy the full moon in the night sky. Bending over, I miss my hometown.”
“A woman without knowledge is better than a woman with an education.”
The letter began in the traditional opening to a bride: I feel knives in my heart as I write to you. We promised each other that we would never be a step apart, that a harsh word would never pass between us.I thought we would have our whole lives together. I never believed this day would come. It is sad that we came into this life wrong—as girls—but this is our fate. Lily, we have been like a pair of mandarin ducks. Now everything changes. In the coming days you will learn thingsabout me. I have been restless and filled with apprehension. In my heart and in my mouth I have been weeping, thinking you will no longer love me. Please know that whatever you think of me, my opinion of you will never change.
“People may speak of us as girls who married out,” I sang, in the direction of Snow Flower, “but we will never be separated in our hearts. You go down; I go up. Your family butchers animals. My family is the best in the county. You are as close to me as my own heart. Our futures are tied together. We are like a bridge over a wide river. We walk side by side.” I wanted Snow Flower’s mother-in-law to hear me. But her eyes stared back at me suspiciously, her thin lips pressed into a slash of displeasure. As I came to the end, again I added a few new sentiments. “Don’t express misery where others can see you. Don’t let sobbing build. Don’t give ill-mannered people a reason to make fun of you or your family. Follow the rules. Smooth your anxious brow. We will be old sames forever.”
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ANNA TRAN NGUYEN thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over
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