Lily and Snow Flower are laotongs, or "old sames." This relationship between two girls is an arranged friendship and one that does not occur very often. These friends actually contract in writing to be lifelong friends and confidants. They learn "nu shu," the secret language of women and write notes to eachother on a feminine item like a fan. This story by Lisa See chronicles their relationship, and explores the damage that a simple misinterpretation of language can do. Lily tells the story as an eighty year old widow looking back on her life, her sucesses and her regrets.
One of the alarming parts of this novel is its step by step description of the process of footbinding. I had heard of the practice but could not visualize what the bound foot looked like. When I actually looked it up I seriously was sick. Oh these poor girls. Here is what Lily had to say, "By nightfall the eight toes that needed to break had broken, but I was still made to walk. I felt my broken toes under the weight of each step I took, for they were loose in my shoes. The freshly created space where once there had been a joint was now a gelatinous infinity of torture." Lily says that this process proves a woman's obedience, discipline, and ability to bear the pain of childbirth. This practice was outlawed in 1912 but wow.