Why would I not have read it? Well, it sounds like one of them books for ladies, a group I tend to shy away from, with all its dust-jacket talk of “lifelong friendship” and “the joys and tragedies of motherhood.” Barf! Also, it takes place in mid-ish 19th-century China, which means it’s all historical and stuff, and also FOOTBINDING. Ladies, history, and a practice that makes my size-11 feet go running off in terror? No thank you!
But it was for my book club, and so I set aside my fears and read it. And I will say that even halfway through the book, I was like, eh. The footbinding bits were awful to think about, and there were a lot of very educational passages about China and the Way Things Were Back Then, and also How Ladies are Totes Worthless, Those Worthless Ladies. Yay. But then there’s WAR, and running away, and trying not to die in the snow, and that was exciting, and then the lady-ful bickering began and I cracked open a beer (not really) and enjoyed the fallout.
And it was definitely this last part that turned the book around for me. I’m not a fan of the lady-ful bickering as it exists in real life, but I like what See did with it as a metaphor for the rest of the book and for 19th-century China in general. Our first-person protagonist is traditional, her bickering partner is many decades ahead of her time, and the way See made these opposing viewpoints very very obvious without having to resort to “she did this because she was so traditional and rooted in the old ways” (well, most of the time) was very nice. I could see where both parties were in the right and in the wrong, and I wanted both of them to shut up and make up, but I could see why they couldn’t do it and I couldn’t fault either of them for it! It’s easier to make someone very obviously wrong; I liked it better See’s way.
So, now that I’ve read this, I am much more knowledgeable about seven-centimeter feet, traditional Chinese family values, and hypocrisy. There’s a lot of hypocrisy in this book. Lots. Would I read this book again? Proooobably not. But I’m glad I did read it.
Recommendation: For people who like ladies, history, and/or very tiny feet. Also people who would like to like ladies or history (tiny-foot-lover wannabes can stay home).