“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” explores female friendships in the Chinese culture. My B-town book club discussed it this week and it was a great discussion.
The book is told from the perspective of Lily. She grows up in a rural part of China and her best friend and laotong is named Snow Flower. In Chinese culture your close friends are chosen for you. A young girl is either given a “laotong” which is a single best friend or she is given a group of “sworn sisters.” A “laotong” is your emotional companion who you promise eternal fidelity to until your death while a “sworn sister” is a friend group you remain devoted to until the last girl is married off. That would be a tough call!
Lily and Snow Flower are “laotong” and they exchange notes in a secret language called Nu Shu throughout their lives. The relationship between them is extremely close, they grow up like both best friends and sisters.
Their lives are broken out into 4 different phases: “daughter days,” “hair pinning days,” “rice and salt days” and finally “sitting quietly days.”
In their “daughter days” they experienced the painful 2 year process of footbinding. During this process, young girls around 6 or 7 years old have their feet bound so tightly that they eventually break. The ultimate goal is a foot about 7 centimeters long that is called a “golden lotus.” OUCH. These small feet are found to be extremely appealing to Chinese men, similiar to the way shapely legs or breasts are to American men. Say WHAT?
“Hair pinning days” are the days that are spent waiting for marriage. In my house, I call these the “pony tail” days or the “snap chatting” days. The “salt and rice days” are the days of raising your children. It is during this time the friendship between Lily and Snow Flower is tested and the conflict in the book appears.
I really enjoyed this book because I learned about Chinese culture and it had a good story about girlfriends. I have always been lucky to be blessed with incredible girlfriends AND awesome sisters. In fact, my sisters and I have our own secret language that we call “double talk.” My daughters have learned this language and so I could relate to having a secret language with my besties.
So I guess I have the best of both worlds because I have both sworn sisters and several “laotong.” I am solidly in my “salt and rice days.” My form of Nu Shu is called double talk. And I can’t imagine when my “sitting quietly days” will ever begin.
This is a classic book club book about girlfriends. You won’t regret reading it.