Oh good lord this was a sad book. Not just what the main character goes through by simply being a woman born in China in the 1800s (hint: not a great time/place to be a woman), but also the pain she causes herself through simple misunderstandings and bad choices.
“I am old enough to know only too well my good and bad qualities, which were often one in the same.”
Lily, now 80 years old, reflects back on her life in this fictional autobiography. The book begins with two important events at age seven: her foot-binding (oh god, these chapters were torture to listen to — I can’t image what these poor girls actually experienced) and her emotional-binding to her laotong, Snow Flower. A laotong, or “old same”, is a match made between two girls who share eight characteristics, and contractually binds them for life as companions and friends. We watch these two grow into ladies, and see how the match between them affects the rest of their lives.
Like I said, nineteenth century China was not a great place to be a woman. Girls are considered worthless branches of their family trees, good only for marrying off and producing sons. They have no rights, and live under the complete control of their husbands and mothers-in-law. Lily, thanks to her well-bound feet, makes a fairly good match in marriage but suffers with her new family regardless. Snow Flower finds herself in a much worse situation. And of course, there’s also the constant threats of starvation, disease and rebels to contend with. It’s a hard, difficult life, but See manages to inject it with beauty and love in this lovely novel.