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In nineteenth century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, old same, in an emotional match that will last a lifetime The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of menAs the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments Together, they endure the agony of foot binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart I actually wavered between giving this book a rating of 3 or 4 stars This is not because Lisa See was unable to portray the life in this feudal Chinese society well, because much of this was vivid and interesting The oppression of women, including the horrors of footbinding, isolation and servitude to men and one s in laws were all clearly and often dismayingly illustrated.One problem with this novel is how much better the tale could have been related if written in the third person, rather tha I actually wavered between giving this book a rating of 3 or 4 stars This is not because Lisa See was unable to portray the life in this feudal Chinese society well, because much of this was vivid and interesting The oppression of women, including the horrors of footbinding, isolation and servitude to men and one s in laws were all clearly and often dismayingly illustrated.One problem with this novel is how much better the tale could have been related if written in the third person, rather than the use of Lily as narrator After learning throughout this book that she was a sensitive, caring, pledged lifelong friend she becomes a cruel,selfish and judgemental harridan to Snow Flower These very factors were so antithetical to what was supposed to have been developed between these two women and what they had always professed would be their relationship, that it was difficult to continue the reading with the same attitude of enjoyment and appreciation I often found that See did not work hard enough to develop either her plot lines or her characters She often glossed over some segments, seemingly in order to reach her next period of time.Despite these criticisms, I found this book often compelling with a level of anticipation for the reader Wow I just finished this book and wanted to come write about it immediately so I don t forget how it made me feel First off, the language is beautiful and so fitting for the context The two girls Snow Flower and Lily have a friendship that is beautiful and is fun to pick out little pieces from my own childhood current friendships that I recognize and adore My next thoughts are not necessarily critiques of the book, but of the way the Chinese thought I had a real problem with hearing over Wow I just finished this book and wanted to come write about it immediately so I don t forget how it made me feel First off, the language is beautiful and so fitting for the context The two girls Snow Flower and Lily have a friendship that is beautiful and is fun to pick out little pieces from my own childhood current friendships that I recognize and adore My next thoughts are not necessarily critiques of the book, but of the way the Chinese thought I had a real problem with hearing over and over how worthless a woman is if she cannot produce a son If that were still the case, I would be as worthless as they come It bothered me that daughters were considered better off if they died than to live And I thought Lily perpetuated that as unfeeling as the patriarchs who instilled that thought process to begin with And don t get me started on footbinding I know this is a cultural thing that I cannot begin to comprehend such as people who think that is just the way life is, but still, how could they not think this through I mean, one of of ten girls died from footbinding And not only does it make the foot look grotesque which they thought was beautiful but they were practically crippled for the rest of their lives They had to be carried most distances after the age of six It s simply ridiculous But reading this book made me want to learn to embroider I know it sounds ridiculous but I was actually looking for embroidery classes in the area where I could learn how to do it And I want to do it with my daughter The visual of these women embroidering together It s just beautiful There were so many beautiful quotes that I thought I d list my favorites This thought is a real comfort to me Everyone knows that part of the spirit descends to the afterworld, while part of it remains with the family, but we have a special belief about the spirit of a young woman who has died before her marriage that goes contrary to this She comes back to prey upon other unmarried girls not to scare them but to take them to the afterworld with her so she might have company This is particarly interesting to me because after my daughter died, Biance would tell me about going to heaven with Miranda every night while she dreamed Another quote I liked about teachers The classics tell us that, in relationships, the one between teacher and student comes second only to the one between parent and child The last one is a bit lengthy, but I like it nonetheless If it is perfectly acceptable for a widow to disfigure herself or commit suicide to save face for her husband s family, why should a mother not be moved to extreme action by the loss of a child or children We are their caretakers We love them We nurse them when they are sick But no woman should live longer than her children It is against the law of nature If she does, why wouldn t she wish to leap from a cliff, hang from a branch, or swallow lye Overall, this was a sad, beautiful book I had high hopes for this book, but ended up feeling deflated and disappointed Two aspects of the book were interesting descriptions of the practice of Chinese footbinding, and an exploration of nu shu, the written language Chinese women developed to communicate exclusively with each other Unfortunately, the book also has two major problems a boring story, and the use of cheap gimmicks instead of complex characterization The story deals with two girls who are matched as old sames, sort I had high hopes for this book, but ended up feeling deflated and disappointed Two aspects of the book were interesting descriptions of the practice of Chinese footbinding, and an exploration of nu shu, the written language Chinese women developed to communicate exclusively with each other Unfortunately, the book also has two major problems a boring story, and the use of cheap gimmicks instead of complex characterization The story deals with two girls who are matched as old sames, sort of a best girlfriend relationship that is meant to last for life Unfortunately, the story of their friendship is just not compelling, and I kept feeling like the author missed the opportunity to tell a really interesting story within the context of the world she creates Aside from being boring the worst sin in fiction I was also disappointed with the way she handled the intimacy of the friendship between the two women, using what I call the cheap and easy Hollywood method for showing intimacy In other words, she introduces sexual elements to show us just how close these two women really are, rather than really taking us inside the complex world that is the relationship between two best girlfriends I thought it was a really shallow treatment of a very deep subject It was hugely disappointing.I don t recommend it My grandmother used to say that my big feet meant I had a good foundation I d stare longingly at her size six feet when she said this and curse my genetic inheritance from elsewhere in the family tree Then I had an ex boyfriend make the infuriating statement that rich women have small feet I pointed out that his celebrity crush, Paris Hilton yeah, another reason I dumped him has huge size eleven feet My teenage self took a lot of comfort in the fact that foot size is pre ordained and unc My grandmother used to say that my big feet meant I had a good foundation I d stare longingly at her size six feet when she said this and curse my genetic inheritance from elsewhere in the family tree Then I had an ex boyfriend make the infuriating statement that rich women have small feet I pointed out that his celebrity crush, Paris Hilton yeah, another reason I dumped him has huge size eleven feet My teenage self took a lot of comfort in the fact that foot size is pre ordained and unchangeable Clown sized feet can strike the smart, the rich, the beautiful And there isn t a damned thing they or I could do about it.Then I read this book and learn it is possible to change your foot size It s called foot binding And you know what I ll pass I enjoy being able to wiggle my toes and jump around So, thank you, Lisa See For once in my life, I am content with my big feet And I owe it all to your graphic descriptions of this ancient Chinese method Blood, putrefaction, pain, breaking bones, risk of death I cannot believe those women were subjected to such brutal mutilation for the sake of beauty Then they were still expected to clean the house perched on those tiny, unstable feet.The foot binding portion of the book was the highlight for me The inspiration for the book was nu shu, a written language developed by Chinese women and kept secret from men for hundreds of years Yawn I didn t find that part of the story very compelling or even believable Didn t men wonder why the ladies kept ink and brushes in their room Beyond the foot biding event and nu shu device, this was really a story about a female friendship that was deep and even erotic at times Putting aside any problems with the plot, their emotions toward each other were complex and meaningful There was hope and joy, but mostly there was pain During an event with Lisa last night, she spoke of how depressing writing can be She doesn t always wake up raring to write Instead she may dread knowing she has to go to a dark, internal place to write about a character s death or betrayal Even worse, she may have to stay in that mindset for days or weeks until that section is completely written I spend so much time glamorizing a writer s lifestyle that I had not fully considered how emotionally draining it could be I suspected the career engenders self doubt Will people like what I ve written Yet, I had never thought about the struggle Lisa described to create and inhabit the internal emotional environment necessary to produce the actual words.I commend Lisa for giving us a realistic look at the treatment of and expectations for women in that day and age Women were isolated and undervalued Their worth was determined solely by whether they could produce sons But honestly, my main complaint about the book is how depressing it was I kept waiting for some great act of heroism Yet the women stuck to their traditional roles The main character not only repeated the indoctrination, she believed it My role in life is to obey, obey, obey Sure, they rebelled in small ways, but always within the confines of their societal roles I kept routing for one character to leave an abusive husband or, at very least, stand up to her oppressive mother in law Normally I criticize authors for deviating from historical facts in order to cater to a modern readership This time, I think Lisa stayed so true to the setting that she turned me off And her heavy handed foreshadowing didn t help Life was hard for women back then I get it But does that make for an enjoyable read Not really And I think that was my problem I had the wrong expectations as I entered this book It wasn t a sprawling historical epic, filled with exciting action, heart fluttering romance, and distant voyages like Shogun one of the few other historical fictions I have read that are set in Asia It was a largely quiet book about quiet life Lisa herself admitted she writes sad books And when she started this book, no one thought it would be successful China Women Gloom No one will read that Well, she proved them wrong Lots of people read it Heck, I read it Evenpeople will probably see the movie.And it s worth reading It made me appreciate the freedom women enjoy today, as well as the potential depth of female friendship Not to mention, I m looking down at my feet right now and thinking, hell yeah, that s one beautiful, ergonomic piece of evolution and just the right size