As a young girl growing up in a peasant family in Puwei village in China, Lily is favoured by her parents through the largesse of a matchmaker. Not for her wedding match, however, but for the pairing between her and her laotong, an emotional bond with another girl - an ‘old same’ to whom Lily is contracted. Since the other girl, Snow Flower, comes from a better family, it is to Lily and her family that Snow Flower visits, Lily believing that the status of her own family is not good enough for her to visit and stay with Snow Flower’s. They go through all of the rituals that were expected of girls and women in China in the 1800’s: footbinding, betrothal to men they had never met and the wedding ceremonies that follow as well as events that affect everyone – famines and diseases. When they are apart, they communicate through a secret women’s writing called nu shu – a practice not understood or given any value to by men. It is through these writings – often secret messages written on their shared and valuable possession – a fan – that they find comfort and happiness, but also share their loneliness and despair when faced with an unjust mother-in-law or husband. Their friendship traverses villages and people but always comes back to whether or not they can depend on each other through the worst events in their lives.
This is a wonderful book that shows the historical perspective of women's lives in China in the 19th century.