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Fleur de neige (2005)
par Lisa See
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At first I thought this would be yet another Chinese tragedy. It was but the voice was compelling and I thought the author did thorough research. The details were facinating and the fallibility of the narrator was belivable.
An emotionally disturbing novel about two young girls bound together as laotong, kindred sisters in the isolated world of Chinese women in the Hunan province. Brought together in early childhood after living through the trauma of footbinding, Lily and Snow Flower are declared laotong and go through much of their life together until a misunderstanding separates them. Told through the lens of an old woman, Lily tells the story of Snow Flower and beseeches the gods for forgiveness.
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Lily is haunted by memories--of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness. In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan 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, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become "old sames" at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
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Classification décimale de Melvil (CDD)813.54 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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There are so many things about the Chinese culture of that era that I, an American woman born in the mid-twentieth century, can't begin to understand. The practice of foot-binding is prominent in this novel and I couldn't get past the sheer brutality of it. It was perpetuated on young girls by their own mothers. First of all it was excruciatingly painful. But even worse, some girls became crippled for life or even died, horribly, from infection. (Although I would argue that ALL these women were crippled; with all their toes except the big toe forcibly turned under the foot, with bones broken and forced to mend in grossly unnatural positions, walking was so painful that for the rest of their lives they were able to walk only short distances at a time.) How could a mother do that to her daughter? How could a society promote such a barbaric practice? How did it even get started, and how could such mutilation be viewed as beautiful and desirable??
Although I found the book very disturbing, I am glad I read it. Ms. See is an excellent storyteller and I am going to investigate her other works. ( )