Friday, September 10, 2010

We are old sames

I need to listen to my friend's recommendations in a more timely manner because I have let this book languish on my shelves for months and simply nodded every time Liz would tell me "You will love it; you have to read it." As always, she was right.

Lily is an old Chinese woman looking back on her life now that all those who might be ashamed of what she has to say are dead. Lily grew up in a home that was not the best financially and as a daughter was thought of as basically worthless. She detailed her foot binding days, how harsh her mother was with her and how painful the process of breaking her feet was but Lily always accepted that this was how it was supposed to be in order for her to make a good marriage.

Just in case you needed a visual of the way these girls (sometimes as young as three) had their feet broken:
picture source

But the real meat of the story is the relationship between Lily and her laotong, Snow Flower. The laotong relationship is basically a contracted friendship that began when the two were extremely young and is to be an emotional love that is valued even over their husbands. Snow Flower is much more refined than Lily, but we see that she is ignorant towards household tasks that she will need in her future.

"For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me — as a girl and later as a woman — to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life."

Lily and Snow Flower communicate using women's language, nu shu, and record the events of their lives on a decorative fan that they pass between each other. Because of the interpretive nature of nu shu, there is a misunderstanding and Lily and Snow Flower's lives are cut apart.

This book was such a fascinating read. I knew nothing about Chinese family dynamics and felt the most connected to Snow Flower and her plight. The laotong relationship is so fascinating to me. The nature of friendships change over time, in my life I have seen friends who I thought would be with me always fade away over things that I cannot comprehend and other friends that I never expected to love become sisters in my heart.

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