Snow Flower and the Secret Fan transported me back in time completely and utterly. I could hear the sounds of the paladins coming down the street, see the wonderful sights and smell the food. Lisa See didn't overuse description or adjectives, but managed to evoke the time period. She also captured how isolated and distinct from the rest of the world this part of China was, at times I felt as though I was reading about 15th or 16th century life, not 19th century life.
She also did a good job describing the horrors of footbinding. Having already read Wild Swans, I thought I knew all about footbinding, but it is described in graphic detail in this novel. The descriptions were vivid and just reading them made me wince - feet broken intentionally? Blood and pus? Constant agony? It's hard for us in modern times and different cultures to appreciate exactly what about having bound feet would make a woman sexually appealing, but then I'm sure the same will be said in the future about many things we find attractive.
I felt that the first half of the book was amazing, but that the pace trailed off as soon as Lily and Snow Flower settled down into their marriages. It was much more fun reading about them growing up, their family rituals and their negotiations for marriage. There were also one or two anachronisms that did jar a bit - at one point Lily 'swept up the trash' and after a novel full of 'bed business' she suddenly 'had sex', a word choice that didn't seem to fit with the Chinese reserve at all. I think I noticed these more because I'm a Brit reading the American version.
Verdict: A journey back in time to a very different place, well worth a read.
Source: Won from Maria at To Read, Perchance to Dream (many thanks!)
Score: 4 out of 5
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