The first 100 pages of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See in one word: Painful. We followed Lily through her own feet-binding process, and I felt my own feet squirm as I read of it.
I think there’s something about reading historical fiction that occurs in nineteenth century China that is always painful for me. I dislike the way women and girls are discounted, I don’t understand the traditions (seriously, crippling girls’ feet makes them more attractive?!), and I am often frustrated by my ignorance of place, food, status, and culture. That last point is the main reason I feel I should continue to read about Chinese history: there is so much I do not know.
Although I enjoyed learning about the culture and traditions, the novel did very little for me emotionally. I disliked Lily from her childhood, and I found few other characters to draw me in to the novel. There was one character I found complicated and interesting (Snow Flower) and by the end, although I felt frustrated with the story and with Lily, I felt there were pertinent issues relating to friendship and trust to consider and ponder.
Yet, I unfortunately found the writing stilted and boring, although many people have praised it as beautiful. Maybe that boredom came from the fact that I read the incredible Beloved by Toni Morrison immediately before this novel? I suspect I would have abandoned this novel from boredom if not for my in real life book club, which was meeting at my house.
Nevertheless, despite my lukewarm reaction to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I am glad that I read it. Viewing a fictionalized snapshot of nineteenth century China made me incredibly grateful for living where I do now. There are good issues raised about friendship and trust; betrayal; and, ultimately, a woman’s relationship to her husband, friends, and children. I’m sure many people will (and do) enjoy this book more than I did, so please don’t take my word for it.
Because I was hosting the book club in my home, I decided to find something edible from the book to feed to my guests, so I read the book looking for food. That made reading the book fun, too, and it saved me from utter boredom. I ended up making congee and deep-fried sugared taro root.
During a deadly typhoid epidemic, Lily feed her children only congee, a rice pudding. While those who ate the diseased animals died, Lily’s family survived. The congee I made had vegetables and chicken stock and it was quite good. I suspect Lily’s would have been a bit more boring, to say the least. Probably just rice and water. Boiled. For a long time.
Every summer when Lily and Snow Flower met in the village, they ate a special deep-fried sugared taro root desert. I’d never eaten taro root before, but it’s a potato-like tuber. I sliced the taro like thick French fries, fried them in oil, and then coated them in sugar. It was surprisingly tasty! Find links to the recipes on Rebecca’s Cooking Journal.
I guess that goes to show that for me, this “in real life” book club makes a book much more fun than just reading it myself, and not just because we had a fun discussion!
Since I didn’t love this book (note that I didn’t hate it either, it just didn’t do much for me), I found as many other reviews as I could find so you can get a second opinion. If I missed your review, let me know.
Other reviews: 1 more chapter; A Novel Menagerie; A Striped Armchair; American Bibliophile; Bending Bookshelf; Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage!; Book Club Girl; Book Nut; Bookin’ It; Books for Breakfast; Books Lists Life; Dear Author; Devourer of Books ; Dolce Bellezza; Fyrefly Books’ Blog; Literate Housewife; Lotus Reads; Reading Adventure; Reading Matters; Sassymonkey Reads; Small World Reads; So Many Books, So Little Time; Some Reads; Stone Soup; The Bookworm – Naida; tiny reading room; Tif Talks Books