“Though we have both suffered misfortune, we are lucky to have spent our whole lives together”

snowflowerThe Brown Baggers read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by bestselling author Lisa See on March 14 as part of the Same Page community read. Since the book group had already read The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, they chose a different novel by the author to read.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan takes place in nineteenth-century China and follows the life of Lily and her laotong, or “old same,” a girl named Snow Flower. Lily and Snow Flower are brought together by a matchmaker as an emotional match- a match that is so strong that it even comes before their marriages.

As a young girl Lily craves love from her mother, but tradition at that time maintained that girls were worthless and her mother did not pay her much attention. But Lily’s aunt teaches her nu shu, a secret women’s writing that men could not understand. Nu shu allowed women to communicate and this is how Lily and Snow Flower stay in touch over the years.

The girls faced many challenges in their lives; they endured the dangerous practice of foot binding as girls, and later as adults they survived in the dangerous mountains during the Taiping Rebellion. Snow Flower and Lily loved each other for many decades, but there was a misunderstanding between them and Lily wrongly thought Snow Flower betrayed her. When Snow Flower became gravely sick, Lily realized that she was too late to make it up to Snow Flower, but Lily was able to help Show Flower’s granddaughter.

Overall, most of the Brown Baggers liked the book. Some found it fascinating, while others said it was depressing to read. One reader mentioned that the novel caused reflection, which is a sign of great writing. Some mentioned that See must have conducted a lot of research, since the story was very historically accurate, and the descriptions of the foot-binding process were very descriptive which made it hard to read.

Many readers mentioned that the women were so isolated from everything and how difficult that would have been. After having their feet bound, the women spent most of their time together in a small room. They were not really able to go outside and could only walk very short distances. Some readers thought the girls and women were too obedient, but strict obedience was expected of them. It would have been practically impossible to not follow what their parents, and later on their in-laws, told them to do.

Most readers said that they learned something about nineteenth-century China from the book and also wanted to know how big the fan was that the girls wrote on, since they wrote on it to each other for years.

Books Mentioned:
Hawaii by James Michener
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

More Information:
About the author
Taiping rebellion
Review from BookPage
About foot binding (includes a picture of an unbound foot at the beginning of the article)

Lotus Shoes: 



The Central Library will be screening the film Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2011) on Thursday, March 28 at 7pm.

The Brown Baggers will meet again on Thursday, April 18 at noon to discuss Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

Same Page 2019: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

tea girl.jpg

Throughout the month of March, JMRL is celebrating the 2019 Same Page community read. This year’s title is The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, who will be appearing at the Northside Library at 6pm on Wednesday, March 20th.

The book examines identity through the lenses of cross-cultural adoption and Chinese ethnicities set against the backdrops of suburban California and the tea mountains of Yunnan Province.

The library is hosting several book club meetings which will focus on The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. Other book groups in the community are encouraged to read the title and can check out circulating book club kits, which include materials to help guide discussion.

JMRL invites the community to read and discuss a book written by an author appearing at the Virginia Festival of the Book each year in March. The library invites community members to attend a variety of free events at all of its eight branches in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson counties. For more information, please see jmrl.org/samepage.

Same Page is generously funded by the Friends of JMRL and supported by the Art and Jane Hess Fund of the Library Endowment.


“Moby-Dick of the tea world”

25150798Books on Tap read The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane  by Lisa See at Champion Brewery on March 7. Throughout the month of March, JMRL encourages everyone to read this title and then meet the author at our free event at Northside library on March 20th at 6pm as part of the Same Page.  

See frequently writes on Chinese-American themes, having spent much of her youth in L.A.’s Chinatown with paternal relatives. In this novel, she traces a young Akah women growing up in a rural tea growing region of China near the Thai border in the 1980s. Li-yan is raised according to traditional Akah customs, shadowing her mother the midwife. The local teacher singles her out for education in the nearest city, where her life is upended by her boyfriend. She gives birth to a daughter who is put in an orphanage and ultimately raised in California by a white couple. Li-yan packs a lot of living into her first 27 years while the daughter explores the clues (dark skin, a uniquely decorated tea cake) that hint at her biological parents. Li-yan and that daughter, Haley, work to find each other by the end of the novel.

The majority of our book club members liked the book. See packs in tons of information about the tea industry and the Akha people which we enjoyed as a window into lives we would not normally read about. Some readers thought that she could have done a better job weaving those details into the story instead of dropping in blocks of exposition. We were surprised to encounter the matrilineal and sex-positive Akah traditions. Coincidences abound but most of us thought they were within the bounds of reason. The ending wasn’t a surprise, and while a happy ending is satisfying, we speculated on the type of relationship Li-yan and Hayley would maintain back in California.

If this story inspires you to look into your own family history, check out JMRL’s online genealogy resources or set up an appointment to digitize your personal VHS tapes, slides, photos, negatives and cassette tapes.

More Information:
About the author
About the book
Other works
About the Akha
About the tea plantations

Books on Tap Information:

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