Monday, July 09, 2007

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

I consider this book by Lisa See to be one of the more powerful and memorable books that I have read this year. This is the intertwined history of footbinding and nu shu, the 'secret' women's writing of China.

It is an emotionally realistic story of a female friendship, with a strong plotline, details of the men's work and study along with intricate descriptions of embroidery and cooking.

The strength of this story is that the author does not tell you what to think about footbinding. You are left to make up your own mind what you would have done in the situations described.

In a tragic reversal of fortune, the young girl from a higher class is fated for a life of poverty and sorrow. In the last few pages we learn of how she has concealed a lifetime of suffering from abuse and violence from her closest friend. The other girl experiences increasing fortune and attributes her own eventual security and dominance to her own moral strength rather than to an indifferent fate. The abuse is not only the physical damage the heroine suffers but the increasing isolation and depression she experiences from the misunderstanding and judgment of her close female friend.

Fortunately we are not left entirely bereft. Each character experiences in others mitigating tenderness and kindness if not love.

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