January/February Pick 2008

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Image representing cover of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
by Lisa See

A language kept secret for a thousand years forms the backdrop for an unforgettable story. Two Chinese women, Lily and Snow Flower, share a friendship and love that sustains them through their lives.

See’s engrossing historical novel takes place in remote 19th century China. Girls had their feet bound, then spent the rest of their lives in seclusion with only a single window from which to see. The author’s in-depth research into women's ceremonies and duties in China's rural interior brings fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women's inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that informed daily life. Illiterate and isolated, women were not expected to think, be creative or have emotions.

Yet in one remote county, women developed their own secret code, nu shu – “women's writing” – the only gender-based written language found in the world. Some girls were paired as “old-sames” in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their windows to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.

In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, an old woman tells of her complicated relationship with her “old-same,” their arranged marriages, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood—until a terrible misunderstanding written on their secret fan threatens to tear them apart. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan delves into one of the most mysterious and treasured relationships of all time—female friendship.

For On the Same Page, the library has purchased the 2006 Random House Trade Paperback edition. It is also available in Chinese and Spanish language translations, and in English as an abridged audiobook in CD format.

Photo of Lisa See About the Author

Born in Paris and raised in Los Angeles, Lisa See spent much of her time in L.A.’s Chinatown. Her first book, On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family (1995), traces the journey of her great-grandfather, Fong See, who overcame obstacles at every step to become the 100-year-old godfather of the Los Angeles Chinatown and the patriarch of a sprawling family.

See has always been intrigued by stories that have been lost, forgotten, or deliberately covered up, whether in the past or happening right now in the world today. For Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, she traveled to a remote area of China – where she was told she was only the second foreigner ever to visit – to research the secret writing invented, used, and kept secret by women for over a thousand years. Amy Tan calls the novel “achingly beautiful, a marvel of imagination,” and the novel became a New York Times bestseller and a Book Sense Number One Pick. It has also won numerous awards domestically and internationally.

In addition to writing books, Ms. See was the Publishers Weekly West Coast correspondent for thirteen years. As a freelance journalist, her articles have appeared in Vogue, Self, and More, as well as in numerous book reviews around the country. Her most recently published book is Peony in Love.

Of Related Interest

Lisa See’s website

Book Discussion Questions

WaterBridge Review interview with Lisa See

Barnes and Noble “Meet the Writers”

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