Wednesday, 10 April 2013

"Snow Flower and the Secret fan" Lisa See

This story concerns the events that took place in 19th century in China, during that time when daughters were considered "worthless branches on the family tree. They drained the family resources, they were raised by one family for another". Perhaps in some places of the world  it is still the case.

Lily is one of the worthless branches from a poor family. When she turns six her family invites a diviner to fix the date for Lily's foot binding. The diviner studies Lily's horoscope and discovers that she is not an ordinary girl. The diviner confers with a matchmaker, they both examine the girl and announce that Lily has a great potential of making a woman "carrier", i.e. marrying a man from the wealthiest family in their county, provided Lily's feet are bound properly, of course.

The matchmaker proposes that Lily has also a laotong.

"I believe your daughter might also be eligible for a laotong relationship" 

I knew the words and what they meant. A laotong relationship was completely different from a sworn sisterhood. It involved two girls from different villages and lasted their entire lives, while a sworn sisterhood was made up of several girls and dissolved at marriage."

When Lily turns seven she goes through the foot binding process and when the agonizing part of it is finished, the matchmaker comes and announces she found a loatong for Lily whose name  is Snow Flower.

"Lily and Snow Flower are of identical height, of equal beauty, and most important, their feet were bound on the same day. Snow Flower's great-grandfather was a jinshi scholar, so social and economic standings are not matched"

The matchmaker says that regardless of the difference between two families, Snow Flower's parents did not oppose to laotong relationship between the girls. The relationship will be beneficial for Lily, who was ideal in many ways but needed a refinement to enter a higher household. The matchmaker gives a fan to Lily where it is written in Nu Shu (secret women's writing):

"I understand there is a girl of good character and women's learning in your home. You and I are of the same year and the same day. Could we not be sames together?" 

From that day Lily and Snow Flower's laotong relationship started and lasted all their lives. What happen to the girls afterwards? Find it for yourselves.

You will discover beautiful and ugly customs and traditions of China of 19th century. You will find a lot about women's position in the society. But besides being an amazing historical book, it s a very deep story about love and friendship between women, about quite a rare quality, our ability to love.

Nothing can describe the essence of the story better than Lily's words:
 
"For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me - as a girl and later as a woman - to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life.

I am still learning about love. I thought I understood it - not just mother love but the love for one's parents, for one's husband, and for one's loatong. I've experienced the other type of love -pity love, respectful love, and gratitude love. But looking at our secret fan with its messages written between Snow Flower and me over many years, I see I did not value the most important love - deep-heart love."

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