Monday, March 10, 2008

What I'm reading

My sister-in-law gave me a novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See, for Christmas. I am just now getting around to reading it--it's fantastic. It's historical fiction, a genre I enjoy but don't read very often. When I started it last night, I couldn't put it down. At the beginning of each chapter, I'd tell myself, "This is the last chapter--then you have to go to sleep." I made it about halfway through before my eyelids wouldn't cooperate anymore.
The story is set in 19th century China, in the Hunan province. It chronicles the friendship of Lily and Snow Flower, two women (young girls at the start of the book) from different backgrounds, who find common ground in their assignment to one another as "old sames" or soulmates. This seemingly chance assignation is actually a very calculated match, meant to bring both women to marriages that will improve their respective social standing. At some point in their relationship, a rift develops between the women. I have not yet reached this misunderstanding, but things are already beginning to become complicated in the relationship. Perhaps the most interesting part thus far has been their utility of nu shu, a 1000-year old Chinese tradition of secret writing between females. It is (perhaps) the only language in the world developed by women for the exclusive use of women. Through nu shu characters written on a fan, Snow Flower and Lily share with one another the trials and triumphs of their respective lives. This uniquely fascinating tradition, along with detailed accounts of (tortuous) footbinding and a thorough look at the expectations of females in 19th century Chinese society, makes for an extraordinary read.

1 comment:

JHaar said...

Glad you're enjoying the book. A friend here in Tokyo lent me her copy. I couldn't believe all the details about foot binding and the general perception on women in that society. Can you imagine being horrified at the birth of a girl?