Friday, February 25, 2011

Snowflower & The Secret Fan - L. See

(Definitely not a book club selection.)

Daughter Trisha gave me this book saying that she really liked it and thought I would too. I read the fly leaf and was pretty sure I wouldn't. I started to read it anyway and was trapped to the end. Ms. See is a very good writer and the story line is quite unusual. I couldn't put it down.  It's a tale about two very young Chinese girls, similar in many ways, who become "sames" (best friends). They are each selected to have their feet bound to change their shape and limit their growth.

The process is described in detail and it is truly horrific. The feet are tightly bound each day in a manner that the toes turn under the arch. At some point as the girls try to walk the bones in the foot break and allow even tighter binding. The object is for the girl to have "golden lilies" which are very small specially formed feet that fit into hand made shoes with a beautiful gently pointed front. The feet become nearly useless. The girls (eventually women) can painfully walk a few or even several steps, but are otherwise carried on someones back or transported by "palanquins" carried  by paid bearers.

A palanquin is two long poles with a flat platform between the poles. A  small chair is placed on the platform and then surrounded by a kind of decorated box with a roof and partly open sides. It serves as a taxi for whoever can pay.

As they grow from children to girls, Snowflower and Lily, refer to themselves as "old sames" and believe they will be special best friends forever. 

The daily life of these "worthless" girls, each with severely bound feet and semi-confined to an  upstairs room (chamber) in their family's home. Their relationship to each other is describe in detail, as well as their family relationships and how they fit into the society of the times. 

The story follows the girls as the each is married and moves from their "natal" homes to the family home of their husband's. Each of the "sames" has babies.  Baby boys are highly valued, desireable and favored. Girl babies are considered just another mouth to feed, worthless and not wanted. 
to be continued

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