September 14, 2007

“Only through suffering will you have peace.”

Posted in books tagged , at 11:47 am by placeinthestars

Did I mention that I finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan? I don’t think I did. I enjoyed it, and found it compelling; I also thought it was terribly sad and, at some points, downright horrifying (I was seriously queasy at the description of foot binding and how inflicting that pain on six and seven-year-old girls was considered a sign of love and favor. and also a way to advance the family fortunes.).

It’s about two girls – Lily and Snow Flower – in 19th c. China who become laotong, or old sames, sworn best friends for life, and it follows them through their lives. The prose is evocative, graceful and lyrical, and the book itself a quick and easy read. Lily, the narrator, is sympathetic even when her flaws drive her to nastiness. It’s a poignant life-long love story between these two girls through the ups and downs of foot binding, marriage, childbirth, famine, and other hard times. The thing that drew me to the story was the use of nu shu, or the “secret” women’s writing that allowed these girls (and others) to communicate when their lives were so circumscribed, and it’s well used in the story.

I thought it did a really good job illuminating the complexities of friendships between women, especially the stupid tiny jealousies and petty slights that fester underneath the veneer of courtesy, and how easy it is to misunderstand when everything depends on context (as it does in nu shu, apparently), and the pain those misunderstandings cause.

It’s a lovely book and I’d recommend it, especially if you like historical “women’s stories.”

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