It took me forEVER to finally pick up this book, and I know exactly why. Though I am fascinated by subtle cultural differences, I tend to overlook books that are too different from what I know. I like discovering what I have in common with other people (whether real live ones or literary characters). I'm sure this has much to do with the fact that I can more easily relate when I'm able to draw clear parallels to my own life. Not only is this is unfortunate, but it's probably also a misconception. I think I often underestimate an author's ability to show me how I can relate even to people (or settings or situations) I find foreign. As Lisa See said in her "Note About the Writing of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,"
Yes, our lives are completely different from those lived by the nu shu writers, but inside we are the same . . . at our cores we still long for love, friendship, happiness, tranquility, and to be heard.
|My version of footbinding.|
I found the book a bit slow to start, and the vivid descriptions of footbinding were pretty horrifying, but it quickly picked up after that. The author was right--I really can relate to characters whose lives are completely different from mine. And I realized how grateful I am that I can walk and run quite comfortably on my great big feet. The only time I experience painful footbinding, it is temporary and completely voluntary.
|The real thing. I prefer my version.|
But this novel is not about footbinding. That practice is more of a backdrop for the story. It's a constant presence, but ultimately it's only one of the many ways women were constrained in nineteenth century China. The true story lies with the deep friendship between the narrator, Lily, and her laotong, Snow Flower. The two girls were paired at the age of seven, kind of like kindred spirits but with an official contract. Their story, from childhood to maturity, through happiness and hardship, affinity and betrayal, is woven together with the history of China's Taiping Revolution.
It's a good thing I enjoyed this book, because there is more Lisa See in my future. I already have a copy of Shanghai Girls, and am curious about Peony in Love. I wonder if it's about the same Peony mentioned in Snow Flower?
Movie news: they're currently filming this one too. I'm not sure when it will be released, but it looks like it will be some time during 2011. Here's a head-scratcher: Hugh Jackman is in it. For a bit of comic relief on that topic, read this first--but the really funny part is here.
To pass along the good karma (maybe you'll start winning stuff too!) I'm going to give away my copy of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I'll ship it anywhere in the universe. Just leave a comment with your email address and I will randomly select a winner one week from today.