Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Reading a blog about someone reading a book sounds, well, horrible. And so far, that is all this blog really is. I am nearing the end of Watership Down, and I intend on fully reviewing the book and giving my thoughts once it is complete. Unfortunately, while I am a fast reader, I do live a semi-normal life, and I can’t be constantly reading (as much as I would really like to sometimes). We are going to a concert tomorrow, an orchestra playing Disney music (yes, you read that correctly), and on Saturday we are going to a D.C. United game with friends. In addition, I have started a new hobby, making jewelry, and I will say I have become slightly obsessed. All that being said, I foresee finishing the book by the end of the weekend.

To turn this blog into something more, I thought that during the times that I am reading, I would take books I have already read and discuss them. I am going to start with my most recent completion, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. The story is set in 19th Century China, and is told by an old woman named Lily as she reflects on her life. As evidenced by the title, most of the story is about her relationship with a girl named Snow Flower. They become “old sames” and write to each other in the woman’s secret language of “nu shu.” The easiest way to understand the concept of “old sames” is to think about pen pals who are best friends and are solitary in that friendship. Most of their relationship is spent writing each other or sending gifts, although as children they do spend time together. Her story expands beyond just Snow Flower, including that of the practice of foot-binding, but everything is but an extension of this relationship.

I found myself feeling very sad nearly the entire time I read this book. There was so much tragedy and heartbreak in this woman’s life, and it seems like at her old age, outliving everyone in her stories, that all she feels is guilt. She is called “one who has not yet died,” and it only further reinforces her guilt. Despite the melancholy, I adored this book. It took me two nights to read it, because I just couldn’t put it down. I kept asking myself, “what could possibly happen next to this woman?” Then I found myself shocked when something did. The big thing to take away from this book is that I cared for the characters. I cared what happened to them, and I can admit that I teared up a little at the hardships they endured in rural China.

This book is soon to be a movie. In fact, I think it is coming out within the next few months. I don’t want that to stop anyone from reading it. If you enjoyed anything about Memoirs of a Geisha, either the movie or the book, then you will enjoy reading this as well. The storytelling is brilliantly written, and I am curious to see how it will translate to film. But, I will give you my warning, don’t expect any sort of catharsis with the ending of this novel. Expect to be appalled but moved, as I was.

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