After reading Snow Flower and The Secret Fan by Lisa See, I am just happy to be an American woman living in this century.
Set in nineteenth century China, the novel begins with the main character reminiscing about her past. Lily, now eighty plus years old and having outlived almost all her children and some grand-children, recounts the early years of her life and marriage and her relationship with Snow Flower, a girl her age whom she was paired with to be her laotong [a kind of emotional relationship that lasted lifetimes].
Wives and daughters lived almost in total seclusion, where they painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, told stories, waited for their arranged marriages, and generally suffered together. When it comes to suffering, these Chinese women have an edge --- the graphic description of the process of foot binding had me skimming pages. Brutal. Agonizing.
What were they thinking?
The story was an interesting one -- and one of the most interesting facets of this culture highlighted by See was the fact that most of the women were illiterate, and to counter that, they invented their own language -- nu shu [women's writing] to communicate with one another ... a language that they passed between them [and under the noses of men] through their embroidered items.
See's power is in her storytelling and language. She brings an age, long past, alive and the women characters she created seem real.