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  • Writer's pictureNeighborhood Reads

Maria's Pick: "Lady Tan's Circle of Women" by Lisa See

I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan so I was excited to get my hands on Lisa Tan’s latest novel set in 15th century China. The story is inspired by the real life of Tan Yunxian. Not much is known about her personal life, but she did leave behind a notable medical text.

Eight year old Yunxian is sent to live with her grandparents after her mother dies of an infection related to foot binding. Her grandparents are doctors of Chinese medicine and Yunxian grows up learning from her grandmother about women’s illnesses including complications of pregnancy and delivery. Her grandmother arranges for her to be trained alongside a young girl, Meiling, who is a midwife in training. They become lifelong friends.

When Yunxian enters an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law initially forbids her to practice medicine. But Yunxian slowly becomes a trusted practitioner with the wives, concubines, and children within the compound.

The story is a fascinating look at ancient Chinese culture. Women lived within the walls of their family's and then their husband's compound their entire lives. Girls had their feet bound at an early age, a practice which was often deadly. In spite of those constraints, Yunxian found a way to provide much needed medical care to women as well as document the practices used during that time period.

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