I have always had a great liking for historical fiction. And a great interest in China. So this would almost be a hands down must read for me. This novel starts out with two girls, Lily and Snow Flower. Both of whom must go through the rigors of foot binding. They go on to be "laotong", translated by the author to be "old sames". Basically, friends who communicate in the secret language of women in ancient china called "nu shu". This book is written through the eyes of Lily in her final days. It follows her path through life, having her feet bound, learning nu shu, getting married, and having children. The very beginning of this book is the most interesting. Mostly because I had never researched the practice of foot binding. The author really does a good job describing the practice. The book goes on to describe Lily's life and how her foot binding and laotong have changed her chances at a better life.
This novel fell short in many ways for me. I knew it was a short novel, but I was expecting more substance. There really isn't much essence to the story. The main plot is about the friendship of Lily and Snow Flower, but I felt cheated out of knowing more about their daily lives. We know what their husbands do for a living, what their Mother-in-Law's general mood is, but that is about it. Really this could have been a meatier novel. There are also instances of heartache, loss, and death. I felt like all instances are glanced over. I do understand that many more people would die in these times. But I felt the characters fell flat in this way. With the death of a son, a sister, a daughter, wouldn't these mothers be more distraught? Also, I felt that Lily's hubris and falling out with Lily was heavy handed. I felt for Lily and was surprised at the deathbed confession of caring. I do not feel like Lily overcame her feelings of doubt and animosity.
Despite these downfalls, this still stands in my eyes as an interesting novel about the struggle of women. I do find the study of nu shu, foot binding and the idea of laotong to be very interesting. I myself feel like I have a laotong. The version of this book pictured above also includes writings from the author on why she wrote it as well as a section of discussion topics. If you are looking for an interesting, but short book club novel, make sure to pick this one up!