Snow Flower And The Secret Fan by Lisa See Retro Friday Book Review

Retro Friday reviews are hosted by Angieville. Basically you post a review of an older book on Fridays.

Lily’s lot in life is about to change. You see, she was born to a farming family. When the diviner and the matchmaker examine her feet, they decide she is destined for better things, such as a match with a laotong, old same, which is a lifetime match held above even marriage vows. Snow Flower, Lily’s laotong, sends Lily a fan by way of introduction with a message written in Nu Shu, women’s language. What unfolds over Snow Flower And The Secret Fan by Lisa See is a lifetime of friendship, replete with secrets, betrayals, and love.

Snow Flower And The Secret Fan by Lisa See Book Cover

Snow Flower And The Secret Fan

Snow Flower And The Secret Fan is fascinating historical fiction. While the feet binding parts made me sick to my stomach, the history teacher in me was like YES! They did this to denote class. Women with bound feet were a status symbol, much like trophy wives today. If a man’s wife had bound feet, it showed he was rich enough to afford a wife who didn’t have to work. There’s quite a bit mentioned on bound feet in Lisa See’s book as well as on the women who did not have bound feet and what it means when the binding is messed up. It’s a rather fascinating exploration of class in nineteenth century China.

There are definitely greater themes at work in Snow Flower And The Secret Fan. Questions are asked such as what does it mean to be a woman? One has a duty to the husband and family. What’s a woman’s worth? Is it in her feet? How many sons she bears? We see in this novel that women at the time pretty much have no worth at all, they are beholden to others. To their family at first, and then when married off, to the husband and his family. Then we also see how a woman’s worth is calculated in the way that she looks, in how small her golden lilies aka her feet are. It’s all very fascinating to discuss and I imagine a book club would have more to say on this, such as how even today women are evaluated on their looks and if you look a certain way society may assess you to have more ‘worth’.

As I mentioned earlier, friendship is examined as well. The dynamics between having many acquintances and just one close friend are examined in the dichotomy of the sworn sisters and the laotong bond. Which also plays into class, as the lower classes have sworn sisters and the upper class has laotong. We see for most of the novel Lily and Snow Flower have a harmonious relationship, each learning from the other. However, Snow Flower ends up really hurting Lily which then goes into how much a friendship can truly handly and endure.

Snow Flower And The Secret Fan by Lisa See is a richly detailed novel. It is interesting and I learned SO much from this book. I actually find myself looking forward to reading more of Lisa See’s work.

Disclosure: Purchased copy.

Other Reviews of Snow Flower And The Secret Fan:

Helen’s Book Blog
Stargazerpuj’s Book Blog
Dear Author

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About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I adored this book so much. So, so much.

  2. I tried listening to the audiobook of this but I ultimately had to abandon it because the graphic description of the foot binding literally made me sick to my stomach. I understand the need to “go there” so people can know what it was like, but I was seriously about to lose my lunch. I have a very weak constitution, what can I say?

    • I have a weak constitution too. However, the foot binding stuff doesn’t last too long. Like, it’s not the majority of the book.

      • I guess for me it seemed to go on forever. I remember driving home listening to it and my commute is about an hour and the description of it seemed to go on for my entire commute. Maybe I’ll try it again sometime and skip over that part. I just worried with how descriptive and drawn out it was, it seemed like that was going to be a major part of the book.

  3. This was a great book, I read it following memoirs of a geshia…I don’t think it’s quite as good as that, but still very good. One tip, I didn’t love Shanghi Girls nearly as much as Snow Flower. Maybe you’ll feel different but I expected more from Lisa See because Snow Flower was so good…

  4. April, I love your reviews. I loved this book too, and enjoyed the history lesson as well. Books about other cultures are my favorite types of books. I also found it seriously depressing. I just purchased Shanghai Girls by Lisa See and I’ll be reading that soon. Just in case you are interested.

  5. Oh, thanks so much for bring this book back to me. I really loved this one. You should definitely read Shanghai Girls — that was really good too — maybe not as good as Snowflower, but I still highly recommend it.

  6. Oh shoot. I meant “bringing” not “bring.” I hate when I make typos!!!

  7. I thought this one was fascinating too. I felt like I learned so much about Chinese culture, which was wonderful, but it also made me realize how little I knew to begin with.

  8. I read this earlier this year and I loved it. It was enough to break your heart.

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