Synopsis (from Amazon)
Lily is the daughter of a humble farmer, and to her family she is just another expensive mouth to feed. Then the local matchmaker delivers startling news: if Lily’s feet are bound properly, they will be flawless. In nineteenth-century China, where a woman’s eligibility is judged by the shape and size of her feet, this is extraordinary good luck. Lily now has the power to make a good marriage and change the fortunes of her family. To prepare for her new life, she must undergo the agonies of footbinding, learn nu shu, the famed secret women’s writing, and make a very special friend, Snow Flower. But a bitter reversal of fortune is about to change everything.
Initially I read this book because I have a certain interest in novels set in the middle-east and I knew there was a film coming out of this one which I was vaguely interested in seeing. Plus it was the daily Kindle deal on Amazon so I had little excuse not to buy it.
I expected a bit more of a novel about China, or was it was like to be a woman in China in the nineteenth century,but, while this was an element of the story, especially early on, ultimately it was a story of friendship. Would I go as far as buying two copies so I could give one to my friend as The Times suggested? Probably not. I admired the strength of Lily and Snow Flower’s friendship but actually I didn’t feel like they knew each other that well. It’s a little strange because they did spend a fair bit of time together on the page, and Lily (who narrates the story) frequently talks about Snow Flower, but you don’t get that much of a sense of what they talk about to each other. Plus when they are both married I get the sense that actually their relationship isn’t that close despite what it has battled through. I feel more like it is held up by some sort of sense of duty at least on Lily’s part whereas I felt Snow Flower was more of a real friend. Despite the fact that they both fought for their friendship I saw their reasons for fighting under different lights.
I found the elements about life for Chinese women quite interesting although they were maybe a little difficult to get into a novel format without seeming a little slow. While I was interested from a historical and cultural stand point they really didn’t have the markings of a great novel, and in he end I think that’s what let the novel down a bit. Lots of the different elements were interesting but they weren’t something that could really be made into an event for a story, except maybe the footbinding. Certainly the footbinding was one part of the novel that really got to me. The descriptions actually made me feel a little sick and it did give a sense of what it was really like in a way that the rest of the novel didn’t seem to get to. There was only one other point that had a real impact on me (highlight for spoiler) (the death of Beautiful Moon) and that seemed to be added simply to add a bit of…action I suppose, to the story. It didn’t really feel like it had to happen.