I finished this one in the hospital last week, and it was lovely to have a good book to read while I was in labor.
The book is set in what is now Jiangyong County in Hunan, China, in the 19th century among the Yao. What makes it so excellent is that it accurately portrays the lives of women at the time, regular women. Lily, the narrator, and Snow Flower fit their times. I don't know why it is so rare for authors to write about women in this way, especially if the book is set earlier than the 20th century, but since it is, books like this are a real find.
But because of this, the book is quite difficult in some parts. The description of foot binding was certainly the most detailed and graphic I've ever read. Awful things happen to these women that they can't control, but when Lily responds in the conventional way, as would be expected, it contributes to Snow Flower's destruction.
There are so many fascinating topics in this book- the treatment of women, education (the whole idea of nu shu is amazing), conventionality, social class, and more. I would love to read this with a group of women and discuss it.
I didn't think the title quite captured what the book was really about, but it is a catchy title. I also wished it was clearer that the book was about the Yao. It was mentioned fairly often that the characters were Yao, I would hope that readers would be interested enough to learn more about the Yao and nu shu and its use among some of the Yao.
But these are very minor complaints about an excellent book.