Written by the American writer Lisa See and published in 2005; it tells the story of two girl friends brought together by a bound stronger than friendship.
According to Chinese customs two girls become “laotongs” through a traditional Chinese rite that declare them sisters forever. Thus the girls are prompted to contract a friendship relation that will last for the rest of their lives.
Lily and Snow Flower (the friends) share their childhood together, though Snow Flower seems to benefit from better opportunities that… will abruptly twist at the end of the story.
The story broadly describes the setting in which the plot takes place, the Chinese culture and its customs. It provides the reader with detailed information about the prevailing society and the difficult role the women play in the XIX century.
One of the most shocking episodes is the footbinding. Both girls were to endure the brutal procedure of the Golden Lotus Feet, which consists in tightly tying their feet (till the bone breaks) and press until the heel joins the toes. This “aesthetic” process starts at the age of five, and it prevents the limb from reaching full development by giving it an irresistible “appeal”. This measure aims at increasing the possibilities of contracting a profitable marriage to a high-status man. It is advised to count on a high level of psychological tolerance before diving into this passage, since it might result somehow disturbing. Fortunately this practice was abolished in China in the 50s.
Once they reach their adolescence the girls contract marriage previously arranged by their families and their future husbands’ families. The husband’s economic position will decide the social class to which the young wife will settle in. It is clear that the woman is believed to be “responsible” of the child’s gender, and the birth of a daughter is viewed as a disgrace. If the husband happens to be a poor man or has a low-class occupation, she will be condemned to carry a life of poverty and misery.
Both weddings inevitably lead the friends to distance, becoming necessary to come up with a communication method that allows the girls to keep in touch one another. This innovative system was called Nü Shu, whose alphabet was used by the protagonists to exchange secret messages written in the folds of a fan. And just as sometimes happen to us with text messaging on the phones, a misunderstanding arises and tear the friends apart.
This misinterpretation plunge the reader into a sea of conjectures by trying to identify the true reasons about the girls’ breaking. Only at the end of the book the painful motives, that subdued one of the girls, were revealed, and how the other one was unable to see through it. An excruciating betrayal which leads her to execute such revenge she would regret later in life.
I give five stars to this book because it meets all expectations of an average reader: a hooking plot, events take place with due frequency, this is, there are no unnecessary standstills that often occur in novels, and it provides historic data that increase your cultural knowledge.