Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Finer Things Book Club: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

This month, my book group discussed one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. 

The book is about two girls in 19th century China who become lao tongs -- best friends for life -- and together go through the experiences of foot-binding, arranged marriage, childbearing, and all the joys and sorrows of being women.

The best part of this meeting was the food. It might not have all been authentic, but it was delicious; we had pot-stickers, fried bread rolled in sugar, black rice, spicy tofu on white rice, Poxy sticks, honey dew melon, oranges, salted green beans, and the main course: a hot pot.

From what I'm told, hot pots are very popular in China. It's basically spicy broth with a bunch of random food added to make a soup. It's a social meal meant to get rid of left-overs; people bring whatever they have lying around to someone's house and dump it in the broth, eat it when it's done, and boil more in the broth until all the food is gone. Because it's so versatile, no two hot pots are the same.

In our hot pot, we had: lo mein noodles, shrimp, chicken, onion, green bell pepper, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, mushrooms, cabbage, and egg. Next time I have a bunch of leftover meat and vegetables, I might make it again!

We decorated the coffee table in the living room with as many Chinese knick-knacks as would fit. Most of it came from a study-abroad one of our members went to. Throughout the meeting, we had a slide-show going of pictures related to the book: bound feet, nu shu writing on fans and clothes, 19th century photographs, landscapes of the Hunan province. I felt we created a good, informative ambiance.

If you want to read the discussion questions for the book group, click "Read More" below. Most of the discussion centered around comparing American women to Chinese women, though we also talked about the main characters and the story itself. This book is so rich in topics, it's impossible for a discussion about it not to be fantastic.

If you discussed this novel in your book group, let me know. I'd love to hear about it!

 Discussion Questions for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

If you lived in China at the same time as Lily, would you bind your daughters’ feet?

Are there any parallels to foot binding in our society today?

Do you think bound feet was erotic for men for purely visual reasons, or do you think men were also attracted to weakness and disability? Are men attracted to weakness today?

When foot binding was outlawed in 1912, women still did it in secret. Why did they insist on continuing the practice instead of feeling relieved that they didn’t have to do it anymore?

Lisa See said Lily was inspired by her grandmother and other old women she knew who “each also had at least one episode in their lives that gnawed at them and they hoped fruitlessly to somehow make amends… I thought that through the character of Lily maybe I could make amends for all of them.” Do you think this regret is a natural and inevitable part of life?

There’s a stigma against women that we can never get along with one another and never keep lasting friendships. Do you think that’s truly a part of our nature? Are all female relationships doomed to the same end as Lily and Snow Flower’s?

A consistent theme in Lisa See’s work is the longing to be heard. Do you feel this longing is universal? In what ways do women today seek to be heard?

What is the root of every problem the narrator has experienced in her life?
Lily states on page 218 that “We can shift fate if we try hard enough.”  In what ways does Lily shape her fate?

Lily cannot forgive her mother, but in what ways does she become like her?

Do you view Lily more as the heroine or the villain of the book?

The Chinese character for “mother love” consists of two parts: one meaning “pain,” the other meaning “love.” Is there an element of truth to this description of mother love?

We don’t have bound feet, and we’re free and mobile, but do you think we’re still bound up in other ways? Career, family obligations, conventions of female beauty, events beyond our control?

1 comment:

  1. Tender, celebratory, joyous, painful, heart-breaking at times-- this is a memorable, glorious book. After reading it, I found myself thinking more and more about some of the power, motivations, love, violence, and ways of communication in our twenty-first century societies.


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