Mar 28, 2012
By May “Mosaic” Advincula, Staff Writer
“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” written by Lisa Yee, is a genuine exploration of the bonds of friendship between two women named Lily and Snow Flower. Set in 19th century China, the story is told from the perspective of Lily, who opens the novel from an aged perspective filled with longing for the friend who brought meaning to her existence.
Through Lily’s eyes, readers are introduced to the 19th century customs of foot-binding, which cripples women’s feet, and spirit of freedom by forcing them into seclusion. The practice of nu shu, a secret writing developed by women, offers them an opportunity to find solace in friendship and bonds established by laotong pairings, “old sames,” which are destined friendships that last throughout their lives. Stories written in the secretive writings of nu shu, on fans and also embroidered on handkerchiefs, enable women to share their hopes and dreams, despite their forced isolation from society.
Though Lily and Snow Flower were each born of a different status of wealth, they are one and the same as they establish a laotong pairing bound by a contract beginning at the age of seven. From there, the novel explores the depths of their friendship and brings the readers through key milestones in their lives, including the hardships of famine and rebellion, the traditions of arranged marriage, the loneliness of isolation, joys and misfortunes of motherhood and the sorrows of death.
When a misunderstanding between the two occurs and their cherished companionship is suddenly threatened, Yee’s poetic tale reminds readers of the delicate intricacies of women’s friendship and love and provides a captivating glimpse into not only a multifaceted culture, but also the poignant complexities of human relationships.