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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See

Lisa See offers a vivid peek at the lives of women in 15th century China, complete with a fascinating female-doctor element that kept me captivated.


No mud, no lotus.

Lady Tan's Circle of Women is my first book club read of 2024, and wow, does this one start off with a bang. Full-force details of foot-binding, and See doesn't stint on the page time spent on the topic. Whew!

Tan Yunxian's grandmother is one of only a few female doctors in 15th century China, and Yunxian is learning all she can from her beloved family matriarch.

When terrible tragedies strike, Yunxian's comfort comes in the unlikely form of her father's kind and caring concubine. Yunxian's eventual arranged marriage means she lives under the thumb of a controlling mother-in-law, who severely curtails her ability to practice medicine, as in the family's opinion, Yunxian's main goal should be to birth sons.

See presents Yunxian as a feminist in many ways, but doesn't allow her to feel more modern than might seem plausible. She resists some of the constraints put upon her, particularly those credited to tradition rather than wisdom, yet she feels authentically of this time period.

The title is interesting; since finishing I have thought more about the eclectic community of women that make up Yunxian's world and the deep ties she builds with some characters that often feel unexpected.

I love a female-doctor and medical storyline, and I was particularly captivated by that aspect of Lady Tan, including the treatments, techniques, and beliefs that feel of the time period at hand.

I listened to this as an audiobook.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Lisa See is also the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane.

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