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I've just finished reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It's not what I normally read; fiction that embraces the true pains of life, whose ending is as bittersweet as life's. But even when I first saw it and held it in my hands, thinking to myself "I'm not going to like this book, it's going to break my heart," the story enchanted me and compelled me to follow it through all it's twisting passages.

I'm not doing a review, a critique, or even a summary. What I'm trying to do is remember the story, and keep it close.

This contains spoilers for the book. You have been warned.
The line I remember most from the story is "In that moment of shared water, I knew that my laotong loved me too." My Catholic roots bubble up in odd places, here making me think of baptism, and of older connotations of water, of its purity and nourishment. That moment is the first time that Lily recognizes the love she and her "old same" share, a sentiment she repeats when she nurses Snow Flower as Snow Flower lays dying. But the idea that Lily tries to pass on to Snow Flower, that their relationship has remained unchanged, is false. Relationships change and evolve, sometimes for the better, but sometimes for the worse. Another interpretation of that statement would be that Lily was trying to show Snow Flower that even during the breakdown of their sisterhood, Lily's love remained steadfast, if unrecognized. I'm pretty sure that that's what she, whether 'she' is the author or Lily, was trying to say.

Another important aspect of the book is the subject of foot-binding. Before reading, I saw it as most people do: a violent and disturbing manifestation of a society that undervalued women. Was it a mutilation? Yes, one that many times resulted in death or permanent disability. Do I think it should be done? No, because of how dangerous and horrifically painful it is, it's long-term effects, and how it was a symptom of a culture in which women had no value beyond their ability to produce sons. But now, although I still am adamant about the injustice of how women were treated, I perceive the practice of foot-binding as more than just a backwards act of misogyny.

Foot-binding, for all its pain and risks, originally was done in the name of beauty (I'll get into the other aspects of it later). Today, the results aren't seen as beautiful, which makes it easy for people nowadays to look on the practice with horror and disgust. But what of our own beauty practices? Whole hosts of eating disorders exist because of the psychological impact of needing to conform to the social construct of beauty in order to have self-esteem. Plastic surgery is immensely popular, even though it's painful and can have permanently disfiguring results. I could talk about older practices, such as corseting, which were also painful and had long-term health affects, all done in the name of beauty. While not as extreme as foot-binding or as widespread, beauty changes across time and cultures. This isn't really a new idea.

But foot-binding became more than a simple fashion statement. It evolved into a representation of a woman's attributes and became an integral part of the formation of a woman's character. A woman's bound feet prepared her for the pains in her life (both physical and emotional), and revealed her endurance to prospective husbands. Foot-binding became a way to attain higher status. I find the way foot-binding was shown, its gruesome process and its social impact, very enlightening; inviting the reader to see it beyond our modern perspective and understand the practice as it was in the past.

The evolution of Lily's estrangement from Snow Flower was a natural progression, which I thought to be very well done. Even though I knew generally how the story would end, I think it would have been easy to rush the degeneration of their relationship, but See didn't. Both Lily's ignorance of her own feelings and her blindness to Snow Flowers' develops slowly, and is tinged with her hindsight regret.

I'm too tired too think of anything else right now. Maybe there'll be more later.

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