Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Faraway Fiction

Many of us are fascinated by putting ourselves into another time and place, imagining life in another context. In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, author Lisa See does just that, taking the reader and the characters into rural 19th century China.
Expressing herself in the language patterns and through the lens of attitudes of women of that time, the protagonist Snow Flower tells us of the life of a village woman from childhood into old age. While most of us in the West are familiar with the customs of foot binding and arranged marriages, the book includes unfamiliar ones such as secret writing among females and formal sworn sisterhoods. Some of this gives the impression of revisionist history, ancient Chinese life viewed by contemporary women looking for signs of incipient feminism. But the special writing language invented by women not permitted to become literate has recently been documented. The book has been so well researched that one has to conclude that it is accurate in other areas as well.
The prose, full of flowery metaphor, often seems formulaic as it speaks in the rhythms of old Chinese writings. And the author tells us too much rather than letting us interpret situations ourselves. Overall, this is an interesting read during which you'll learn more about that time, although as we say in Book Club, " it's not great literature".

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