Lady Tan Ynxian is a historical figure about whom very little information has been discovered. It is known that she lived in China during the Ming dynasty and that she published a book of her medical cases in 1511. From the few recorded facts available, Lisa See has crafted an engaging and memorable character. At eight years old, Yunxian is a curious and intelligent girl, the daughter of an upper-class family of fifteenth century China. When her father leaves on a long journey, she is sent with her father's concubine to her grandparents' home in Wuxi. Grandfather Ru is a respected scholar, and her Grandmother Ru is a well-known practitioner of traditional medicine who hopes to pass her extensive knowledge on to her granddaughter. Because doctors are not supposed to touch blood, she is often assisted by Midwife Shi whose daughter, Meiling, is just the same age as Yunxian. Despite the differences in their social and economic situations, the girls develop a bond that will last all their lives.
As a woman, Yunxian lives in the luxurious home of her husband's family while Meiling works as a midwife and helps in the family's tea shop. Their life-long friendship survives betrayal, grief, envy, and pride.
In spite of the enormous cultural differences between these women and the women of the 21st century, Lisa See is able to draw parallels that connect our two worlds. Then and now, in China and around the world, the gift of friendship among women is so vital and so valuable. As in the modern world, there were many women in this imagined world who tried to further their own situations by criticizing and undermining the women around them. Patient, gracious friendship helps each woman to succeed, and provides comfort and encouragement when things are difficult.
Lisa See also writes about the bond shared by everyone that occupies a female body. Over the span of our lives, women deal with bodies that change over the course of each month and over many years. As in the past, we are often defined and valued according to the attractiveness of our bodies or by the lack of what is considered to be attractive. We deal with pregnancy, childbirth, infertility, and diseases to which women are more prone.
This book is packed with interesting historical information about foot-binding, marriage customs, medical practices, social structure, and the justice system of the fifteenth-century China. Its main attraction, however, is its relevance to twenty-first century readers.
This book will be available June 6. It was an advanced readers copy, given to Jude Poulette. Jude graciously read the book and wrote this amazing summary and review for our readers.