Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See



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.



Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a beautiful book to read. Recommend to anyone wishing to take a deep dive into women of the period, for a book report, essay, or gaining perspective, and historical practices of interest. Makes for an excellent book club read and I look forward to discussing more of it in detail.

Thank you to Book Club Favorites at Simon & Schuster for the free copy for review.

The Story
It’s a very transportive story, a look into the lives of Confucian women, spanning a few generations of life. Han and Ming dynasties.

The social dynamic of women connecting to other women in sharing of experiences through life stage. Women helping women and the excitement and anticipation of reaching certain milestones in life from historical viewpoint. There are some aspects brought into modern day understanding, I think for readability.

Child-bearing and childrearing. Social expectations.
Ceremonial and daily life.
Marketplaces and festivals.
Sipping Jasmine tea during cherry blossom season, other trees readying for their time like the crabapple.
Proper greetings.

Treatments for various physical ailments.
Foot binding.
Imperial exams.
Watching the koi swimming about.

Tea ceremony, jade pins and hair ribbons, embroidery.
Adorning of fine silks, pearls, and beads.
Ornate clothing, rituals, and customs.

Companionship and loss.
Periods of mourning.
Honor, commitment, and community.
Balance and priority of life.

The Writing
I appreciated the level of detail. Well-researched. Though heavy detail at times with some commentary, though it makes sense to a certain extent. A bit if explanatory narration which is not my cup of tea, but I enjoyed much of it. A lot of description, which may be the preference for some. For me it was a bit much at times, albeit very beautiful.

Delicate and beautiful verbiage in reciting dialogue added for flow and context, as well as celebration of the culture of the time.

Characterization and Tone
Reading this was like settling into a soft, billowy cloud.

Though it also did not shy away from the realities of the time and difficult topics, which are difficult to convey in both historical context, writing style, and characterization. It did not belittle culturally, which is what I most appreciated. Man domination and women suppression was a bit swinging pendulum to me, where women become personification of men was just at the ends of a bit over-emphasized at times, as compared to modernized concept, instead of reverence, but perspective was brought back to center through other characters which helped to balance it back to leveling out of culture and respect, for the most part.

There are quite a bit of characters, I was not able to keep track, but I enjoyed the differing perspectives, roles, and attributes each had to offer.

1st person narration, I can’t decide how I felt about it. It could have felt more personal, but something was less personal about it. But that could be because of the amount of characters and not feeling as connected to either their circumstance, personalities, or emotive qualities, or just too many of them to feel depth of character in the way POV or portrayal was told in representing everybody.

I look forward to more, always learn something so intriguing and beautiful aspects of culture of women of the past.

View all my reviews

<span class="uppercase">Hello, I'm Erica </span>
Hello, I’m Erica

Recipe developer, book reviewer, and artist. Expect delicious recipes both traditional and new, book reviews of all sorts of genres, a variety of creative expression, life musings, and much more!



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