Halfway through, and I realize that I am reading through a kaleidoscope of cultural personae. The thoroughly modern American woman reads a tale of a patriarchal society that expresses its disdain for women (except as sexual objects or, pardon the expression, breeders of sons) through brutality. The pain is inflicted on women by women, footbinding (hideously and graphically described) being the most obvious example, and abuse by mothers-in-law being more subtle. The second-generation daughter of Ukrainian and White Russian Jews relates to some of the rituals (food, certainly, and using arcana to support matchmaking). The literary woman delights in vivid and sensual writing, real characters, and the powerful evoking of place.
All that aside, the love story between the two young women, Lily and Snow Flower, is extraordinary. So few Chinese women of the time were allowed to develop a lifelong friendship, a sisterhood. How lightly we take our friendships compared to these women! And how lightly we take our relatively-recent ability to choose the paths of our lives.
Also, how nonchalant we are with our literacy. The special, secret language developed amongst Chinese women, nu shu, was a type of rebellion against the isolation that was required of them. It could express poetic sentiments, or pleas for pity, and it was unreadable by men.
I probably will finish this book tomorrow - it's an amazing read. Just amazing.