This is yet another novel about women in China. It’s based in the nineteenth century, in a very rural area. Ancient traditions still apply: feet binding, arranged marriages, transfer to the groom family after the wedding ceremony, seclusion in dedicated rooms, tiring house chores, endless childbearing. Women are expected to deliver sons and they are looked down upon and abused in case they only give birth to daughters or they don’t have children at all. More often than not their husbands take up concubines when their wives get older and less attractive.
This is the story of two women, who as children are matched as laotong, or “old same“, a bonding that is supposed to last for life. They become best friends and communicate using nu shu, a written language that women have passed down through generations for a thousand years, and that has never been discovered by any men yet (it will become publicly known only in the second half of the twentieth century).
Lily comes from a poor Yao family, but due to her beauty, her perfectly shaped, sized and bound feet and her laotong status (it’s a rare thing) she will enter a very lucky marriage and lead a successful life. Snow flower - her old same - on the other hand comes from a prominent family that got disgraced. And she has always striven to keep that a secret.
An interesting and tragic story with a background of historical facts such as poverty, famines, opium addiction, typhoid outbreaks, the Taiping rebellion and the ensuing army crackdown.