Skip to main content

Featured Post

Spring means Hope | Weekly Snapshot

Hello you guys! I seem to have forgotten how to blog with everything going on around here. I'm sure I'm not the only one. Hope you all are coping okay?

Last week Things finally got to some semblance of a routine this week and I've been finally feeling better and in charge of my emotional faculties. I've taken over one of the upstairs bedrooms and set it up as my office-cum-homeschool room. In other words, the room is a big mess, but both my daughter and I are able to navigate the room fine as everything in the room has a meaning in our own brains. We're both very organized that way. I've been using a sit-stand desk for my work laptop and I'm a little glad that I got to try this system finally. When I'm not working, I'm helping the girl with her letters, numbers, or fun activities. Trust me, this is difficult but we worked through the system this week, and think we have it under control. My father-in-law watches my son during the day as the little ma…

Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (Audio Book)



In nineteenth-century China, six-year old Lily is just beginning the rituals towards becoming a woman. As per custom, her foot is to be bound and her marriage fixed in a few years, even though it will be much later before she starts staying with her to-be-husband. Even before she begins her initiation, her fate and that of her aunt's daughter, Beautiful Moon, are beginning to get intertwined with that of a girl named Snow Flower.

I listened to this book a couple of months back, and my review comes really late. So while I probably forgot a few points, there is so much about this book that is still with me. For starters, I am not an audiobook fan, but I'm beginning to understand that it's more due to unengaging narrators than the audio book itself. Janet Song, the narrator of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, does an impressive job in evoking the character emotions and conveying the tragedies and happiness.

Girls in China had their feet bound at six years of age. I had previously read only one book which involved foot binding, and even then I assumed it was a harmless custom. Harmless! Girls could die from foot binding, and that was a really shocking piece of news for me. Everything I needed to know about this custom came from the second chapter of this book. Lisa See (and Janet Song, through her narration) captures the dangers of this custom very well - the pain, the cracks heard as the bones broke, the compulsory walks across the room on bound feet, the regular removal of the bindings only to put on a clean set even more tightly - all to bend the feet completely, so that the person appears to walk on tip-toes. Imagine your feet and your pointed heels as one object - that's how a bound feet would look like. I have never been more appreciative of the feet I have, in fact, I have almost sworn-off pointed heels because of what they'll remind me. And if the bindings aren't done properly? You can get gangrene or blood poisoning. The ideal size is apparently 7 inches (if my memory serves me right). 7 inches is not even a foot.

Most of this book focuses on the "friendship" between Lily and Snow Flower. I use friendship for want of a better word. Because, what exists between the two is a relationship closer than that between friends, sisters or a married couple. In China, it is called laotong, which is signed in contract - just like arranged marriages. Snow Flower is from an ostensibly richer town and a richer house. Lily is financially at a lower strata. While Lily's mother is only interested in the monetary benefits, the real situation is a lot more complicated. Having been brought up in the ways of the rich, Snow Flower has a very sophisticated manner of doing anything. Her education is more solid and her mannerisms more lady-like.

I wish I could go on about this book, but apart from the first couple chapters, the rest constitute spoilers. There is so much that happens in this book. The women are understood to have no say in a lot of matters, with men dictating all the rules, and yet it is obvious that the women have more power than Lily admits. Most of this story is from the perspective of women, and for all I know, the men hardly exist other than as props. It is interesting how much a woman can do even within a limited or non-existent freedom. As a daughter-in-law, the pressures on one are really great, but as a mother of sons, she has more status.

As was the norm in many countries in the nineteenth century (and still is in most places), sons are most coveted, while daughters are considered worthless. I cringed so many times through the book whenever the sentiment was expressed. Lily, herself, was not without fault. You would expect that one who goes through so many hardships as her, would at least try to unburden her daughter. But this is like the snake that bit its own tail - a cycle that never ceases. I both hated and loved Lily as the narrator. Lisa See was taking a risk by making her the narrator. Lily was clearly no ideal woman. She passed on her burdens to her daughter, glorified her son (in fact, she talks a LOT of her son). She is selfish and arrogant, and she begins to doubt her own friend, Snow Flower.

I was, however, annoyed by how much tragedy seems to befall people around Lily, while Lily just keeps getting luckier. I know that's not coincidental but circumstantial, nevertheless all that tragedy was just wearing me out. Every once in while, I wondered if I could just get through a part without having to sniff a bit. Other than the overdose of tears, I found this book really wonderful. I will especially recommend the audio book over the print.

  

Check out this book published by Random House @ Goodreads, BetterWorldBooks, Amazon, B&N.

I borrowed this audio book from the library. This book also completes my Women Unbound challenge.

Comments

I'm going to admit my experience -- I full on bawled my eyes out with this book. I closed my home office door so my husband couldn't hear me, and I hyperventilated and bawled. I'm not a big fan of audio books, and I really enjoyed the printed pages. I read Peony in Love after this, and I really liked it, but Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is my favorite. I do agree that Lilly was one lucky lady, though -- and part of my overall experience of crying for everyone else, too!
bermudaonion said…
Reading your description of bound feet sent a shiver through me. I won this a while ago and need to read it - I have a feeling I'll love it.
Introverted Jen said…
The foot binding just killed me! *shivers* What a horrible custom! Did you look it up on Wikipedia? There are pictures on there if you can stomach them. I want to say they were even smaller than seven inches. Thumb length? That sounds crazy, but that's really what I think, rightly or wrongly.

That's pretty much the biggest thing I remember from this book. Once you mentioned it, I'm pretty sure I had problems with Lily too and felt bad for poor Snow Flower.
This is an all-time favorite of mine. I had the print version, and loved it. Glad u liked it too.
I'll admit I only skimmed your review since I didn't want to read anything I shouldn't (remember, I am on about page 100 of this book right now). I am so glad you liked it though. I am not loving it yet, but am getting into it more and am really liking it.
Athira said…
Coffee and Book Chick, I remember crying so much too! I mainly listened to this while commuting, and I had to make sure that I was not a spectacle!

Kathy, I'm sure you will love it! I can't wait to hear what you think!

Jen, the pictures made me want to vomit. I still can't understand what people found appealing about them. They look DISGUSTING!

Diane, I'm glad to hear you loved this!

Helen, having read your review, I have to say we both have similar tastes!

Juju, thanks!

Popular posts from this blog

Hell-Heaven by Jhumpa Lahiri (Short Fiction Review)

I first read Jhumpa Lahiri years ago, when her Interpreter of Maladies was making a huge buzz. At the time, I didn't catch any of the buzz, but for some reason, when I saw the book on the shelf at the store I was browsing in, I felt it just might be a decent read. Funnily, I read the entire short story collection without complaining about it, but for some reason, I cannot read any collection anymore without agonizing over its disjoint nature.

I did enjoy Interpreter of Maladies, but I did get bothered by the thread of loneliness and infidelity and distrust that laced through the stories. For that reason, I have been reluctant to read Unaccustomed Earth. However, when I came across Hell-Heaven at the NewYorker - a free short story from her book, I decided to go ahead and read it. I can't resist the pull of stories set in India or featuring Indian characters, and it is that same aspect that hooked me throughout this story.


In Hell-Heaven, the narrator contemplates the relations…

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Maybe that’s what religion is, hurling yourself off a cliff and trusting that something bigger will take care of you and carry you to the right place.
Bernadette Fox has a reputation. While her husband and her daughter Bee love her, there's barely anyone else who share the sentiment. Her neighbor Audrey loves to gossip mean things about her with her close friend, Soo-Lin. The other parents of kids at Bee's school look down on Bernadette because she doesn't involve herself in school affairs. Bernadette herself goes out of her way to avoid company.

And then one day, Bee comes home with an excellent report card and asks for her reward - a family trip to Antarctica. The very plan throws Bernadette into a panic but she has no other option. She hires a virtual assistant, based out of India to take care of all her demands, including getting prescriptions at her local pharmacy, doing her online shopping and taking care of some of the logistics of her trip. (It is ridiculous! Bern…

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (Short Fiction review)

With the Hunger Games hype that engulfed us last week, it was hard to avoid all the discussion of similar works that existed. Of the many titles that I came across, two stood out particularly - a short story called The Lottery and a Japanese novel (and movie) called Battle Royale (which I'm reading right now and just cannot put down). The novel will be fodder for another post, so for now, I just want to rave about the awesomeness that was The Lottery.

In contemporary America, villagers across the country are gathering on the 27th of June (and some a day earlier) for an annual event called the Lottery. Children, women, men, all come to the main square of their village or town, where the lottery master keeps a black box full of paper chips. One of these chips is marked has a special mark on it to identify the winner (the person who draws that chip). Not everyone draws however, but only the head of the family. Husbands are viewed as the head of their families/households, and if the …