BKMT READING GUIDES



 
Informative,
Dramatic,
Interesting

78 reviews

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan : A Novel
by Lisa See

Published: 2005-06-28
Hardcover : 272 pages
132 members reading this now
239 clubs reading this now
211 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 78 of 78 members
Lily is haunted by memories–of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness.

In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and ...
Add to Club Selections
Add to Possible Club Selections
Add to My Personal Queue
Jump to

Introduction

Lily is haunted by memories–of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness.

In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu (“women’s writing”). Some girls were paired with laotongs, “old sames,” in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.

With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become “old sames” at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, 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 lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a brilliantly realistic journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. With the period detail and deep resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Milk Years

My name is Lily. I came into this world on the fifth day of the six month of the third year of Emperor Daoguang’s reign. Puwei, my home village, is in Yongming County, the county of Everlasting Brightness. Most people who live here are descended from the Yao ethnic tribe. From the storytellers who visited Puwei when I was a girl, I learned that the Yao first arrived in this area twelve hundred years ago during the Tang dynasty, but most families came a century later, when they fled the Mongol armies who invaded the north. Although the people of our region have never been rich, we have rarely been so poor that women had to work in the fields. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. In your opinion, is Lily, who is the narrator, the heroine or the villain? What are her flaws and her strengths?

2. Do you think the concept of “old sames” exists today? Do you have an “old same,” or are you part of a sworn sisterhood? In what ways are those relationships similar or different from the ones in nineteenth-century China?

3. Some men in nineteenth-century China apparently knew about nu shu, the secret women’s writing described in Snow Flower. Why do you think they tolerated such private communication?

4. Lily writes her story so that Snow Flower can read it in the afterworld. Do you think she tells her story in a convincing way so that Snow Flower can forgive and understand? Do you think Snow Flower would have told the story differently?

5. When Lily and Snow Flower are girls, they have one intimate–almost erotic–moment together Do you think their relationship was sexual or, given the times, were they simply girls who saw this only as an innocent extension of their friendship?

6. Having a wife with bound feet was a status symbol for men, and, consequently, having bound feet increased a woman’s chances of marriage into a wealthier household. Women took great pride in their feet, which were considered not only beautiful but also their best and most important feature. As a child, would you have fought against having your feet bound, as Third Sister did, knowing you would be consigned to the life of a servant or a “little daughter-in-law”? As a mother, would you have chosen to bind your daughter’s feet?

7. The Chinese character for “mother love” consists of two parts: one meaning “pain,” the other meaning “love.” In your own experience, from the perspective of a mother or a daughter, is there an element of truth to this description of mother love?

8. The author sees Snow Flower and the Secret Fan as a novel about love and regret, but do you think there’s also an element of atonement in it as well?

9. In the story, we are told again and again that women are weak and worthless. But were they really? In what ways did Lily and Snow Flower show their strength and value?

10. Although the story takes place in the nineteenth century and seems very far removed from our lives–we don’t have our feet bound, we’re free and mobile–do you think we’re still bound up in other ways; for instance, by career, family obligations, conventions of feminine beauty, or events beyond our control such as war, the economy, and natural disasters?

11. Because of its phonetic nature, nu shu could easily be taken out of context and be misunderstood. Today, many of us communicate though e-mail or instant-messaging. Have you ever had an experience where one of your messages has been misunderstood because of lack of context, facial or body gestures, and tone of voice? Or have you ever been on the receiving end of a message that you misinterpreted and your feelings were hurt?

12. Madame Wang, the matchmaker, is a foot-bound woman and yet she does business with men. How is she different from the other women in the story? Do you think she is considered a woman of status or is she merely a necessary evil?

Suggested by Members

What are some of the taboos discussed?
How were women able to communicate with others?
Discuss the power of the mother-in-laws in each home.
by Callie (see profile) 11/20/15

foot binding
nu shu
rituals
by Wvgirlygirl27 (see profile) 02/12/13

"A true lady lets no ugliness into her life. Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you find peace. I wrap, I bind, but you will have the reward."
What kinds of pain or suffering have you been through that resulted in beauty? Describe any experience you have with being the paingiver that was necessary for someone else to gain such a reward.
by frogerella (see profile) 07/07/11

How did you feel about Lily arranging for her grandson to marry Snow Flower's grand-daughter?
by yherrera (see profile) 04/11/11

What did you find the most fascinating about the book?
by helenzeeb (see profile) 02/24/10

The love between women and how strong of a bond it is.
Cultural differences
by joannemorrone (see profile) 01/16/10

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Fortune cookies
by Callie (see profile) 11/20/15

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by BeaSou (see profile) 01/03/19

 
by becelise (see profile) 01/12/18

 
  "Great read, after the slow start"by Burgo49 (see profile) 12/28/15

Although I found this book had very slow start, after the plot started to thicken (about 30% in), I couldn't put it down. Part of the reason I think I had trouble getting through the first t... (read more)

 
  "Women's lives"by Callie (see profile) 11/20/15

Very interesting and informative novel on woman in China, the oppression they suffered from the male dominated society and they ways of coping with women's secret communications and sister groups.

 
  "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan"by marysu (see profile) 08/03/15

I enjoyed the book, but had real trouble getting beyond the foot binding description. That remained on my mind throughout the remainder of the book and diminished the story for me

 
  "A Truly Great Read"by sbsalsa (see profile) 01/11/15

If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha, you will love Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. A beautiful story of culture that compares the difficulties that class/caste/money can cause - but it's more about a wonderful... (read more)

 
by tinajfarrell (see profile) 10/27/14

 
by Lshafer (see profile) 10/24/14

 
by nanbfree (see profile) 05/13/14

 
  "Loved it. "by lisjanemon (see profile) 11/13/13

My favorite book club book.

Rate this book
MEMBER LOGIN
Remember me
BECOME A MEMBER it's free

Join the leading website for book clubs with over 35,000 clubs and 20,000 reading guides.

SEARCH OUR READING GUIDES Search
Search




FEATURED EVENTS
PAST AUTHOR CHATS
JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...