Author: Lisa See
Published by: Scribner on Jun. 6, 2023
Genres: Historical Fiction
Format: ARC, Paperback
Source: Simon & Schuster Canada
Book Rating: 9/10
The latest historical novel from New York Times bestselling author Lisa See, inspired by the true story of a woman physician from 15th-century China—perfect for fans of See’s classic Snowflower and the Secret Fan and The Island of Sea Women.
According to Confucius, “an educated woman is a worthless woman,” but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient.
From a young age, Yunxian learns about women’s illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other’s joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom.
But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, pluck instruments, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights.
How might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions, go on to treat women and girls from every level of society, and lead a life of such importance that many of her remedies are still used five centuries later? How might the power of friendship support or complicate these efforts? Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a captivating story of women helping other women. It is also a triumphant reimagining of the life of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.
Vivid, captivating, and insightful!
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is an intimate, absorbing, multi-generational story that sweeps you away to fifteenth-century China and into the life of Tan Yunxian, a young woman born into an aristocratic family whose life is destined to only include an arranged marriage, the agony of bound feet, and multiple childbirths to ensure a male heir, that is until she loses her mother and is sent to live with her paternal grandparents, both practising physicians, whose love for medicine leaves her with a desire for more out of life including the ability to help those in need and to practice medicine on women from all walks of life.
The prose is lyrical and expressive. The characters are layered, vulnerable, and resourceful. And the plot is a beautifully written, moving tale about life, love, familial relationships, heartbreak, loss, desperation, courage, hope, expectations, traditions, medicine, and the power of female friendships.
Overall, Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a compelling, evocative, illuminating tale by See that I absolutely loved and has just the right amount of intrigue, culture, colourful history, and palpable emotion to be the perfect choice for all fans of the historical fiction genre.
This novel is available now.
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Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for gifting me a copy in exchange for an honest review.