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Book Clubbing


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan 
by Lisa See




Lisa See

Lisa See

Author Interview

About the Book

A language kept a secret for a thousand years forms the backdrop for the remarkable novel of two Chinese women whose friendship and love sustains them through their lives.

This unforgettable novel takes place in nineteenth-century China when girls had their feet bound and lived in almost total seclusion. Some girls were paired as “old-sames” in emotional matches that lasted all of their lives. The women in one remote county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu (“women’s writing”). They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories in hopes of sharing their dreams and accomplishments.

An old woman reflects on her relationship with her “old-same”, their arranged marriages, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood—until a terrible misunderstanding written on their secret fan threatens to tear them apart. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan delves into one of the most mysterious and treasured relationships of all time—female friendship.

About the Author

Lisa See was born February 18, 1955 in Paris, France. She is the author of Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year. She lives in Los Angeles.

Discussion Questions

  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 and “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. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. 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?
  9. 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?
  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?