I have finally finished this book which I started a while ago.
I enjoyed The Joy Luck Club and The Hundred Secret Senses, both by Amy Tan, so when an article said that Lisa See is the next Amy Tan, I had to read her work.
I realized that there will be a movie based on this novel. Since I never like watching the movie first before reading the original book, it was my intention to finish the book before the movie was released. It seems like the movie did not do quite well in the box office. Regardless, I plan on watching the movie sooner or later.
The book's main theme is the friendship between two Chinese women in 19th century. Mainly due to the setting of the novel, it contains vast amount of cultural tradition, customs and idealism in 19th century China. Growing up in relatively traditional Asian family, I was able to comprehend many of the idealism and traditions. However, many non-Asian-culture-friendly readers may not understand certain aspects or tilt their head about eccentric customs. What all readers should understand, in my opinion, is that most Asian tradition is based on spiritual symbolism and patriarchal lineage.
The book mostly deals with women tradition and stories. One of those that Lisa See chose to elaborate was the foot binding. The book describes that based on the size and the shape of the bound foot, women can achieve happy life or can be thrown into a pit of misery. The process of foot binding requires breaking bones in each foot to shape them into small, beautiful and perfect "golden lilies." The smaller your bound feet are, the better family you will marry into for better status and life. Based on the book, main characters, Lily and Snow Flower's feet were perfect in shape and size to ensure their happiness.
In case you wonder, like I did, what bound feet looks like or how small they become, I add a picture.
When I visited Hong Kong when I was very young, I remember seeing a small pair of shoes of display in a museum. Please, correct me if I am wrong, but those shoes were to be put on young girls to prevent their feet from growing any bigger. The reason as written on the description panel was that it was to prevent any young women from running away either from their future husband or family. Lisa See repeatedly states throughout the book that women are worthless and is considered nothing more than bearers of children.
Another women tradition mentioned and utilized is nu shu, women's secret writing. In the author's note, Lisa See explains her study and journey to discover and understand the words and songs women used to express themselves. Women in "ancient" China did not have much right to meddle with the "outside realm of men" and were expected to sit in upstairs chambers quietly. Since they were not allowed to be educated or learn "men's writing," women invented women's secret writing, nu shu, to be kept hidden from men's knowledge. It is this nu shu that Snow Flower and Lily write on their secret fan, symbol of their everlasting friendship.
Besides unusual traditions and customs, the journey of two laotong, or old sames, continues, for better or worse, as their lives goes on, changes and comes to an end.
To be honest, I could not hold my tears toward the end of the novel and I believe it is because I saw myself in Lily and Snow Flower. We need and aspire someone to love and someone who will love us unconditionally. Maybe you will find a piece of yourself in Lily or Snow Flower.
Well, now the wait for the movie to be released on DVD!! :]
"When a girl, obey your father; when a wife, obey your husband; when a widow, obey your son. But my mother-in-law taught me another axiom one day, when she was aggravated with her husband: "Obey, obey, obey, then do what you want.""
- From Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See -