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Wednesday, 21 May 2008

‘Snow Flower and the Secret Fan’ by Lisa See

While in lagos, I had ample time to catch up with the reading. My niece lent me her book assuring me that it is a good book. and it was. 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is the book that I enjoyed reading. This is an extraordinary tale of Chinese Culture in 19th century, set in a remote Hunan county, it is a story of a bond between two girl friends,(the laotang or old same) Snow Flower and Lily that lasts a lifetime. The laotang, Snow Flower, introduces herself at the age of seven to Lily by sending her a silk fan on which she has written a poem in ‘Nu shu’ (meaning women’s writing) a unique language that only Chinese women could communicate secretly away from influence of men. Having a wife with bond feet was a status symbol for men in the 19th century and consequently having bonded feet increased a woman’s chances of marriage into a wealthier household. Women took great pride in their feet which was considered not only beautiful but also their best and most important feature. Snow flower and Lily had their feet bound during the same time and there begins their friendship. They both endure the agony of foot binding and together reflect upon their arranged marriage, shared loneliness and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. Excerpt: Snow Flower My son is here beside me My child bearing pollution days are not over My husband visits in the morning His face is happy My son has eyes that stare at me in question I can’t wait to see you at one month party Please use your best words to put my son on our fan Tell me of your new family I don’t see my husband too often. Do you? I look out the lattice window to yours You are always singing in my heart I think of you everyday Lily Lisa See has triumphed, writing an achingly beautiful story through vivid memoirs of eighty year old woman who reflect on her life during the 19th century and her relationship with her laotang Snow flower. Nu shu is the backdrop over which the whole story is woven. This haunting, beautiful and ineffably sad tale of longing so intense as to be taken beyond the grave, is written in See's characteristically strong prose. She has a keen ear for Lily's yearning, and manages to depict an era and place vastly different from our own Westernized world with grace, acumen and not a little humility. In her capable hands, Lily evolves as a character with whom the reader (of either gender) can feel a deep affinity, for Lily's quest is irrespective of era or geography or even isolation. See makes her audience feel what Lily feels, to identify with her desperate desire to be touched at that place we call "soul," to exorcise the alienation she feels through one passionate connection with another person.

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