Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Written by Lisa See
Review by Wendy Zollo

Set in 19th century China in a secluded village, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the graceful story of Snow Flower and Lily’s life experiences from the time they are paired as laotongs, an intimate friendship meant to last their all their days, and one that is more precious between two women than even marriage.

See’s research takes a fascinating journey, providing details on the painful binding of the girls’ feet, the obligations of their birth families, arranged marriages, and the general worthlessness of women—which is balanced only by their ability to produce sons. Her prose abounds with a distinctive luminosity that allows her imagery to flow effortlessly. The high point of See’s exploration into Chinese culture, and the key to Snow Flower and Lily’s relationship, is nu shu, a secret written language for women. It is through these words that they are able to reveal the truths of their lives and sustain each other through separation, being “married out,” rebellions, and the entrenched lies of traditions, status and disloyalty. But most of all, this is a story of love, hurting, tenderness, and the misunderstandings that become tangled up with true devotion.

See has written not only a mesmerizing and alluring tale of a complex relationship, she has chronicled the ways of a culture in a beguiling torrent of words.