Mar 13, 2012

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See

This has been an immensely popular book since it was published, and I can see why. The story See tells is beautiful and heartbreaking, and different in a very unexpected way. I kept thinking the book would be like "This Burns My Heart": young Asian woman finds her way towards a more modern view of the feminine situation. But "Snow Flower" isn't like that at all; rather, the main character, Lily, goes through life very much indebted to and thankful for her place as a woman in rural China. Her joy is in her sons and her obeisance to her elders and betters (including all men), her comfort lies in tradition and the expression of her love through that tradition. In the end, she is admonished for it, yet she remains unapologetic in (most of) the choices.

As a modern female reader, we are used to heroines who break out of socially constricting binds and liberate themselves, so to come across a book that deviates from that norm is, in an odd way, refreshing. See didn't set out to create a masterpiece of women's liberation literature; she wanted to give us a glimpse of a particular time, a different view of what it meant to be a woman that could still lead to fulfillment. And she does it beautifully, although sometimes the explaining of cultural customs, as spoken through her character's mouths, can be a bit stilted. That is my only complaint, however, about what is truly a lovely novel.

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