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Lady Tan's Circle of Women - Book Club Pick!


Title: Lady Tan’s Circle of Women

Author: Lisa See

Publisher: Scribner

Genre: Historical Fiction


What an exceptional and another impeccably researched novel from author Lisa See! This was the second @bookfriendsbookclub pick for June and it’s always wonderful to read historical fiction that teaches you about new people, cultures and eras. Lady Tan’s Circle of Women dives into fifteenth century China and its medicine, place for woman, friendships, household traditions, society and the push to give birth to a son. And one can’t forget the binding of the feet! 🤢😆 IYKYK.


“I must live as a proper Confucian woman: When a girl, obey your father; when a wife, obey your husband; when a widow, obey your son.”

But, Tan Yunxian doesn’t want to live just as any Confucian women; born into an elite family and educated by her grandmother who is one of the only female doctors in China, Tan Yunxian has a thirst for knowledge and yearns to be a doctor treating women like her grandmother. Unfortunately, her elite status dictates an arranged marriage at fifteen and a mother-in-law that forbids her in helping women and girls in the household.


“Friendship is a contract between two hearts. With hearts united, women can laugh and cry, live and die together.”

Another thing that becomes difficult for Tan Yunxian to navigate after marriage is her childhood friendship to Meiling, a midwife (in training) who does not come from a privilege background. After marriages, Meiling continues with her midwife studies, but Yunxian must stay in the Garden of Fragrant Delights compound and embroider, recite poetry and give birth to sons. I couldn’t help but wrestle with the idea that neither woman had it easy. From first glance it’s easy to say an elite women does, but she was a prisoner, essentially. Meiling was free to go out and about, but was poor, struggled and judged. “A woman is a woman whether born in the dirt or on silk.”


“Store up good deeds and you will meet with good. Store up evil actions and you will meet with evil.”

The author does a great job exploring how a woman might break free from society traditions and how centuries later, even still today in Chinese medicine some of these practices are still used. I enjoyed the bit of mystery and inquisition that occurred that gave just a glimmer of hope and power to women.





Rating: Solid 4⭐️ Historical Fiction fans that are burnt out on WWII!? This is the book for you! I highly recommend this immersive story. It’s well researched, but not one that you will feel overwhelmed with. It’s the right balance of information, rich characters, and well woven plot.


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