Snow Flower and the Secret Fan By Lisa See
If any woman living in 2006 has any complaints, she just has to read this novel to realize how lucky she is. In the 19th Century, in a remote Chinese village, the lives of girls and women, wealthy or poor, have purpose - to obey, and to give birth to sons. Lily is born into this world in 1823 and her fate is determined by the fact that her feet, as expected, were bound tightly in order to remain small and exceptional - and that she will make a marriage that will be advantageous to her family. It is difficult for a 21st century woman to believe that bound feet were considered to be sexually attractive. This appalling practice of mutilation is brutally described as Lily, like former and future generations of girls, suffers the torture of ritual foot binding.
Lily is selected by the match maker to become a sworn sister, an "old same", with Snow Flower, a girl from another village.
These girls are bound for life as friends, and they find a comfort and love together that is not provided by anyone else in their lives.
At the age of 80, Lily now has the perspective to re-examine her youth and especially her relationship with Snow Flower - a relationship which lasted through the lives and deaths of marriages and children. Lily and Snow Flower use Nu Shu, a 1,000-year-old coded language devised by women exclusively for their own use, as a means of communicating by writing their secrets on a fan.
This brings them the freedom of sharing their secrets but ultimately causes a misunderstanding that results in lasting grief.
It is a fascinating world, one you will disappear into and regret leaving at the end of this exceptional novel.
As Lily recalls her life and reveals her secrets she realizes that she is seeking a way to forgive those who have brought her grief - and herself, for her own cruelty, brought about by misunderstanding the events of the past as they happened.
This will be the "must read" book of the season and will be on everyone's book club list in the coming year.