In the Chinese lunar calendar the year of the rabbit began on February 3rd. Celebrating Chinese New Year will be a new tradition in our family, and we will celebrate this weekend with other families of adopted Chinese children.
I have read another Chinese American novelist in honor of Chinese New Year (and fiction February), I am sorry to say it took me so long to read her work, as many people have recommended this author to me. Lisa See has written an amazing book about Chinese women from the Hunan province who developed a secret language to communicate with each other. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan swept me into another world for four days. I could hardly sleep last night thinking of these two women laotong, or old sames. Sworn sisters, who lived their lives in particular cultural ways that are completely unknown to me. They had bound feet, were married off to strange families, endured war and famine and sought out that which many women seek, true and unyielding friendships to last throughout their lives. These sworn friendships were love relationships which often meant more to them than husbands or children.
The narrator and main character Lily and her laotong Snow Flower communicated using a now almost dead written language called nu shu, the woman's language. It lasted for hundreds of years and men knew nothing of it. It was almost killed during the cultural revolution and has recently been resurrected in the manner of folk dances or art.
Ms. See did an amazing job of creating the world of 19th century China. Even though I thought I knew a lot about ancient Chinese customs and traditions, I was amazed at how much I learned about this other place and time. The writing is rich and detailed and the story is riviting. I felt I understood well why a mother would choose the painful exercise of binding a daughter's feet. (Maybe a 19c. equivalent of being a Tiger Mother?) Lisa See's novel helped me make sense of a very foreign set of cultural practices. If you pick up this paperback version don't miss her post script about doing the research for the book and her own family life as part Chinese and part American. As always, I am in awe of the creative process that can produce such magnificent tales. Are there other Lisa See recommendations out there?
I have put this in the mail to my friend Catherine who should enjoy this tale of women and friendship and 19th century China.