This is a tale about life with all that it brings; family, friendship, tradition and death among others. The story is told in first person which makes it not only beautiful but incredibly sad and heart breaking. The story revolves around two women who meet as girls; Lily and Snow Flower who are from two different socio-economic class and by some twist of fate end up as laotong or “old sames” as tradition would have it. We meet Lily, who tells the story, at the age of seven and grow old with her till she is eighty years old.
The one thing that stayed with me throughout the book was the role tradition plays in our lives. In this case, foot binding and the place of the woman in the society’s hierarchy. In many cultures, the woman or girl is trained and prepared for marriage, it occurred to me that the women undergo more intensive preparation than the men. Traditionally, the onus is on the woman to be meet the criteria of the man and she has can only wait and be chosen. This leads to painful and sometimes fatal practices like foot binding, neck lengthening, female circumcision, Victorian corsets, force feeding to make them fatter, teeth sharpening, ear elongations, body art and piercings. All these in a bid to make the woman more beautiful and sometimes as a sign of endurance, maturity and more eligible for marriage.
Besides the traditional aspects of the book, the friendship between Lily and Snow Flower is one to be cherished. It helps them not only survive through the worst of times but also helps us see how there some issues that only women understand and also how fragile friendships are. We are introduced into Chinese culture and tradition but also the strength of women to endure all. Here are some of the words among others that stayed with me:-
“Only through pain will you find beauty. Only through suffering will you find peace.”
"She had been raised to be a fine lady and, as hungry as she was, she did not tear into the food as someone in my family might... Her restraint and control taught me a lesson I have not strayed from to this day. You may be desperate, but never let anyone see you as anything less than a cultivated woman”
"I also knew the difference between nei - the inner realm of the home - and wai - the outer realm of men - lay at the heart of Confucian society....the domestic sphere is for women and the outer sphere is for men....I also understood that two Confucian ideals ruled our lives. The first was the Three Obediences: 'When a girl, obey your father; when a wife, obey your husband; when a widow, obey your son.' The second was the Four Virtues, which delineate women's behaviour, speech, carriage, and occupation: 'Be chase and yielding, calm and upright in attitude; be quiet and agreeable in words; be restrained and exquisite in movements; be perfect in handiwork and embroidery.”
"My small feet would be offered as proof to my prospective in-laws of my personal discipline and my ability to endure the pain of childbirth, as well as whatever misfortunes might lie ahead."
"You married out, you go to another village. Your mother-in-law is cruel. Your husband doesn't care for you. We wish you would never leave, but every daughter marries away... You can cry and beg to come home, but you-and we- have no choice."
I also love how i gained so much knowledge about Chinese culture and old traditions from this book. This story also taught me so many things about life generally, through the characters we see their suffering, their sacrifices, even the joy and sadness of life.