Monday, May 5, 2008


In a remote village in Hunan, a seven-year-old Yao girl named Lily is told by the fortune teller who comes to pick an auspicious day for her footbinding that her destiny is special. Suddenly, her life is on a new and exciting course toward a very advantageous marriage out of the poverty of her home village. More interestingly, Lily is eligible for another contract of a different kind--she can become a laotong, or "old same," with another girl of exactly her age in another village. If she agrees, Lily will sign a binding agreement to be best friends with this girl, Snow Flower, for the rest of her life. Snow Flower, who is from an enobled family of an imperial scholar, is refined and well-bred in a way Lily is not, but the girls forge a deep and faithful friendship that will change their lives.

I resisted reading this book for several years for two reasons--1) the popularity (I figured it must be terribly generic), and 2) the title (I thought it was a little silly). I only changed my mind because I read PEONY IN LOVE upon Cyn's recommendation a few months ago, and I really enjoyed See's writing. I'm so glad I read SNOW FLOWER. I literally found it very difficult to put down and ended up locking myself in my room the entire first nice day of the year in order to see what happened.

This book is masterful in its research into the lost custom of nu shu (women's writing), a remote culture (the Yao of Hunan province), and the less glamorous side of the Taiping Rebellion (all the villagers who were displaced by it). It is also a heartfelt and universal tribute to friendship, the potential it has to save lives, and the power it has to ruin them. A short and very emotionally charged novel--I think I started crying in Chapter 2.

All women should read this book, particularly if you've ever fallen out with a friend. It's a reminder of what is most important and that we should always seek redemption.


cindy said...

oooh, i'm glad you read it and really enjoyed it, moonie! you and angelle can argue about it now. haha! i don't think i liked it as much as you did. but i notice you do read for more layers than i do, esp given your asian studies background. i almost always read purely for entertainment. in the end, it's a toss up as to which i liked more--this or peony.

i liked the supernatural elements of peony in the second half. with fan, i liked the first half and not so much the second half.

angelle said...

like i said on your blog. i was completely let down by this book. i felt it wsa so anticlimatic, it made the whole exercise seem like a waste of time. i probably would be highly reluctant to pick up another see book because of this book.

Precie said...

Ah, crap. Another TWO books to add to my Amazon list.

must not order today...must not order today.

Mary Witzl said...

I have heard different opinions about this book from people who I assumed would agree on it. Now I'll have to read it too.

cindy said...

angelle, what did you specifically dislike or felt let down on? was the ending too anticlimactic?

for me, i remember when i sort of turned on the story. it was when [SPOILER] the bee stung the girl and she swelled up and died.

i felt the story was already tragic enough without this happening, and felt manipulated by the author. it may seem silly, but there it is.

i think i'm very sensitive to chinese literature and films being constantly tragic. i think it's a part of the culture and history that's difficult for me to connect with or understand.