I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan a couple of weeks ago, and it was a good, semi-quick read. It could be all the melancholy I was surrounded by when I read it, but I don’t feel attached to its moments of extreme tenderness and quiet the way I do to Typical American. I’m intrigued by author Lisa See’s background. A redheaded Eurasian born in Paris and raised in LA, it’s certain that she must have led an interesting life. I think it’s fascinating that she found her writer’s voice and story in the more ancient roots of her father’s culture.
See’s novel’s intrigue ends right about there for me, though. As I read Snow Flower – by myself and at the foot of my grandmother’s death bed – I couldn’t shake the feeling of “Wow, this is so wound up with Orientalism.” I wouldn’t charge See with perpetuating Orientalism, but I know that it must have hit the high ranks on the New York Times’ Bestseller list for the same exotic factors that Memoirs of a Geisha did. (A crash course on Orientalism is another post for another time.)
I definitely have the utmost respect for the writer-likes of See and Arthur Golden, who put incredible amounts of research into their novels. It’s nothing short of extraordinary when you consider how exhausting their levels of detail are.
Still, I am, perhaps inexplicably, distanced from the book. It’s not bad, it just didn’t excite me much. Part of me says I read it because I needed something else to focus on in those couple of days.
One of my favorite scenes after the cut.
Here, the bride (Lily) and groom of an arranged marriage finally meet. Lily is 17.
He said, “Hello.”
I said, “Hello.”
“Have you eaten?”
“I’m not supposed to eat for another two days.”
“You have peanuts and dates,” he said. “I won’t tell ayone if you want to eat them.”
I shook my head and the little balls on my headdress shook and the silver pieces chimed prettily. My tassels pared and I saw that his eyes were cast down. He was looking at my feet. I blushed. I held my breath, hoping to still the tassels so he wouldn’t glimpse the emotions on my cheeks. I didn’t move and neither did he. I was sure he was still examining me. All I could do was wait.
Finally, my husband said, “I’ve been told you’re very pretty. Are you?”
“Help me with my headdress and find out for yourself.”
This came out more tartly than I intended, but my husband just laughed. A few moments later, he set the headdress on a side table. He turned back to face me. We were perhaps a meter apart. He searched my face and I boldly searched his. Everything Madame Wang and Snow Flower had said about him was true. He bore no pockmarks or scars of any kind He was not as dark-skinned as Baba or Uncle, which told me that his hours in the family fields were few. He had high cheekbones and a chin that was confident but not impudent. An unruly shock of hair fell across his forehead, giving him a carefree look. His eyes sparkled with good humor.
He stepped forward, took my hands in his, and said, “I think we could be happy, you and I.”