Cover Image: Lady Tan's Circle of Women

Lady Tan's Circle of Women

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Member Reviews

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

I love stories that have wonderful, realistic relationships between women. I love when it highlights the highs and lows but also the strength we have when we work together and support each other.

This is the second story I've read, this year, about midwives and this one was just as moving, emotionally raw, and amazing! I loved our mc, Yunxian. She is young, privileged, but still a young girl in the late 1400's in China. She is being raised to devote herself to her eventual matched husband, serve her mother-in-law until she is the woman of the home.

But Yunxian's life is a bit different. Her grandmother is a well-known and respected female doctor. She understands that the monthly cycles and pregnancy need a unique understanding that other doctors have just not embraced to know or understand.

In the story, you are with Yunxian as she is a young girl all the way through to adulthood, so you see how her life is the same as other young wives and mothers, but also how it's different. Lisa See does an amazing job of introducing other layers of people who live in the large estates that Yunxian lives at, and really lets us explore their power struggles and relationships. I loved this story and found myself immediately pulled into the story and, I especially loved the author note right at the beginning - so you know there is a factual basis for these people and families. This one was so good, I loved it!

A huge thank you to the author and publisher for providing an e-ARC via Netgalley. This does not affect my opinion regarding the book.

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Interesting historical fiction about a real Asian female doctor. Women did not have it easy in this time or place. I highly recommend this book!

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This book is a tour de force. See is a master storyteller who uses rich writing and thoroughly researched material. This book is a perfect blend of traditional Chinese culture during the Ming Dynasty and the remarkable life of one of the first female physicians in China. With See's reimagining of Tan's life, readers experience both the extraordinarily rare appreciation of a Chinese woman's intellect and the rigidness of a proper married Chinese lady's days. Readers may find some of the content hard to digest but See didn't simply insert difficult topics without reason. The pace of the book was perfect and the writing was powerful. Not to be missed.

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This was such a perfect book club pick. So much to discuss packed among these pages. While the foot binding descriptions were quite graphic, I think they were necessary for people to understand the lengths these women were forced to go in the name of beauty. I learned so much by reading this book - about the roles of women, medical practices during this time period, and more. This was an obviously well researched subject for the author and she presented it in a beautiful way.

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Beautiful beautiful story of a specially gifted woman in ancient China.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.

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Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See reminded me how much I absolutely adore See’s novels. Yunxian is raised in by her grandparents to learn the art of women’s medicine, along with her friend, Meiling, a midwife in training. When her arranged marriage puts a stop to this, Yunxian must figure out how to break the traditional roles in order to better serve the women around her.

Like many other of See's books, I simply could not put Lady Tan down. Wondering what would become of Yunxian and her family, along with Meiling. I can't even imagine being constrained by the gender roles in their time period, yet talented and ambitious and needing to do more. What the women had to do to follow their passion is unthinkable.

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Beautiful beautiful story of a specially gifted woman in ancient China.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.

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This was such a wonderful, informative and multi dimensional women focused read. Our store even chose it for a book club. I cared for these characters—their back stories, their relationships, and their futures, and I felt as though it was very cinematic. I adored Lisa See’s Island of Sea Women (I learned so much) and this one was a very close second. Would so, so love her to come to the store!

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Lady Tan is the fascinating story of Yunxian, who was trained by her grandmother in the pillars of Chinese medicine, not able to use her skills due to the belief at that time (that women were inferior and not knowledgeable) enough to be recognized or able to work as a doctor or a nurse.

Yunxia's story was of strength, sadness, and determination. her story changed when she was sent to live with her husband's family, her mother-in-law prohibited her from practicing any type of medicine her grandmother taught her, making Yunxia another story more like the story of many women who were successful but couldn't work in what they loved and knew.

This is the story of someone brave enough to work for what she believes even if that was in silence but in a very effective way.

I enjoyed this book so much, the traditions, the amazing stories of every woman around Yunxia's life, the resilience, and the strength of such a wonderful character like Yunxia.

Thank you, NetGalley and Scribner, for the advanced copy of Lady Tan’s Circle of Women in exchange for my honest review.

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Lady Tan's Circle of Women wins the award for most life-changing book of 2023. In the time of foot-binding and Confucius's "wisdom" that “an educated woman is a worthless woman” Tan Yunxian is born into an elite Chinese family. But there's something different about Yunxian's family. Her grandmother is one of only a few female doctors in China, treating "women's issues" because male doctors are prohibited from touching female patients.

Yunxian learns alongside her grandmother where she meets Meiling, the midwife's daughter. Despite coming from different backgrounds, the two vow to be forever friends. One arranged marriage and a demanding mother-in-law later, the two are separated— forbidden from contacting one another again.

Will the confines of her husband's family compoud keep Yunxian's gift locked away? Can friendship between women persevere in hard circumstances? And can an educated woman make a difference— even in male-dominated China?

Tan Yunxian was a real Chinese physician during the Ming dynasty in China whose remedies are recorded in "Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor" and still used to this day. Lisa See's fabulous storytelling brings this woman's work to life through her novel— and even inspired me to try Chinese medicine for myself. And guess what? It worked!!

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I feel like Lisa See has found the perfect equation for interesting novels: two female friends, likely from different class, much experience the tragedy and trials of their historical periods while trying to reunite. This was just that! I love the novels of hers that deal with foot-binding, it's such a gruesome and bizarre tradition. 4 solid stars.

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Set in the 15th century, this well-researched historical fiction tale covers a lifetime with lots of characters. It's based on a real woman and her medical text. There are some very uncomfortable situations described, but it's, unfortunately, very realistic. Lisa See writes a gorgeous story of friendship and family.

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Lisa See does it again. I’ve always been a big fan of hers, and this book was consistently as good as her other works.

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I am a huge fan of the historical novels written by Lisa See and Lady Tan's Circle of Women does not disappoint. I as absolutely riveted by this story based on an actual figure in China's history. Set in the late 1400s we get to learn about the ancient medical practices employed by Lady Tan. She works as a doctor for those in her family and it was so fascinating to hear about how she treated people. The writing is so descriptive that it's easy to picture each scene in the book as you're reading. I can not recommend this book enough. I loved it! Read and enjoy!

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Set in China during the 15th Century, the novel centers on the lives of two Chinese women. Tan Yunxian is from a wealthy family who has had her feet bound, according to the custom for high-born girls. Meiling is from a common family, the daughter of a midwife. Yunxian’s mother dies when she is young and she is taken to live with her grandparents because her father is away at school. Her grandmother is a well-respected doctor and she decides to train Yunxian to follow in her footsteps. The grandmother knows Meiling’s mother, the midwife, and decides it would be good for the two young girls to become close friends.

Midwives deliver children because doctors are not allowed to touch the blood from childbirth. They might be present, but must stay removed from the delivery bed, only available as an adviser. As Meiling learns from her mother and Yunxian learns from her grandmother, the two girls form a close bond. Both become married and their circumstances differ because of their social standing. Meiling is allowed to move about the towns and countryside while Yunxian is confined to the family compound where the wives, concubines and children live. Still, they honor the rules of their roles and look for validation of their medical expertise.

This story of the two women from different backgrounds shows the class distinctions that ruled China. The practice of footbinding is an important aspect of the book, as is the medical care of the time. There was a real Lady Tan doctor who wrote of her treatments and patients. Her medical practices were remarkable and many are still practiced today.

See researched the real female doctor and the world in which she lived. Descriptions of compound life, medical care for women and even the story of a midwife giving birth as she treats the empress’ pregnancy, are based on actual conditions and events. The fact that women might be allowed to treat other women centuries ago is noteworthy. These female practitioners understood female ailments and the female anatomy, making them well equipped to treat conditions specific to their sex.

See not only showcases women in 15th Century China but the culture of the time and the friendship of two extraordinary women from diverse backgrounds. Like Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, the female bonds are strong and the characters are compelling. Another fabulous historical novel from a talented writer.

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Lisa See has done it again by writing another masterpiece. This book is so well researched and gives us a look at a remarkable female character and doctor from the 15th century. Beautifully written. story about a young women, Yunxian who is sent into an arranged marriage. Will she be able to practice medicine? From a young age she has learned about women's illnesses and cures. The story include the power of friendship and a look into life in China in the 15th century. Don't miss this one.

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Wow! What an incredible saga! I was thoroughly immersed in the time period and learned so much. This was a powerful story of strength and the bond of women. I loved my time with it and am better for reading it!

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#YOURNEXTBOOKCLUBPICK Showcase Series — LADY TAN’S CIRCLE OF WOMEN by: Lisa See

If you are a fan of historical fiction and haven’t read a Lisa See novel, you should remedy that immediately and add one of her book gems to your TBR stack ASAP. She is masterful in her research and it shows in the richness in every single detail as well as in the scope and depth of background. Her books are the kind of books that stay with you and are unforgettable — that you will come back to thinking about and remembering again and again. Her book THE ISLAND OF SEA WOMEN is that book of hers for me. So I was excited when I saw she had a new release and knew I needed to read it.

In Lisa’s recent release, LADY TAN’S CIRCLE OF WOMEN, she follows the life journey of Yunxian, who after losing her mother as a child and with her father away on important scholarly studies, learns the practice of medicine and healing while living with her grandparents. Most importantly, her grandmother passes down not only knowledge gleaned from generation to generation in her family, but also from one woman to another. Being versed in treating womens’ ailments, labor and delivery, along with traditional Chinese medicine during the Ming Dynasty era (relating to the body’s Qi energy and differential diagnosis through various pulse presentations and examination) was so important as a female physician to their female patients. Usually during this time period, male doctors couldn’t directly touch, observe, or talk to their female patients. They could indirectly collect a history or talk to a patient regarding their symptoms and treatment through a male relative on the opposite side of a screen, as well as take a pulse indirectly with a cloth barrier between their fingers and the patient’s wrist. Thus a female patient having access to a female physician and/or midwife for hands-on direct examination and treatment was so invaluable and such an advantageous blessing. Lisa fashions her character after the real life Chinese physician, Tan Yunxian, who published the earliest known medical text by a woman in 1511 highlighting various case studies of her patients and is still able to be bought/read today as Lisa did! Physicians during this time were not only well-versed in treatments using herbs, acupuncture, and moxibustion, but also an early form of vaccination: variolation against small pox.

As Lisa guides the reader along the different stages of Yunxian’s life, including marriage and children, in turn she exposes readers to all the complex traditions and elaborate rituals of the Ming Dynasty. From foot binding to multichamber marriage-beds, to the pressures of bearing sons whilst coexisting amongst in-laws and concubines, as well as essentially becoming fully part of only your husband’s family, the life of a woman could be stifling harsh, unforgivingly restrictive, and full of dangerous risks. In a world of few choices, women must form strong bonds and ties amongst each other. Social status and wealth controlled and dictated all aspects of society from clothing style (including its adornment and accessories), to the number and extravagance of courtyards in garden homes, to the type of expected educational, hobby, and in-home pursuits that were permissible, and to the ritual elements of ceremonies. Even some of the more controversial aspects of the centuries of empire dynasties were explored that have since ended regarding the use of concubines, eunuchs, and severe corporal punishments.

As a woman it was particularly hard to read and dive into all the excruciating and horrific painful details of historic foodbinding in women. It led me to explore the subject online and in more depth, where I discovered interesting articles, books, and university papers associating high heel shoes as a more accepted form of modern footbinding. It definitely lends to more thoughtful discussion and doesn’t seem too off base or farfetched when one thinks of the resultant foot deformities and pain for the sake of vanity and aesthetic appearance. Sarah Jessica Parker (with love always to SJP), notorious for her affection and adoration of shoes — her SJP brand is as synonymous with shoes and fashion as it is with her love of books and libraries — once reported that her feet are forever deformed from so many years in high heels and one of her feet actually has an extra bone. Furthermore the old adages “no pain, no gain” and “beauty is pain” contribute to false authenticity and align with the historical pressures on women during footbinding that also attacked any failure in this area as mental weakness and dishonor or lack of love for one’s husband.

Lisa has provided a wealth of historical information and background on her website to enhance your next book club and/or provide resources for further study or research. Follow the link below to access this gold mine or find “Step Inside: Lady Tan’s Circle of Women” at lisasee.com:

https://lisasee.com/step-inside/lady-tans-circle-of-women/

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I haven't read a Lisa See book in a while and I was so happy to right that wrong with Lady Tan's Circle of Women! See writes sweeping, achingly beautiful books that somehow make the atrocities women endured meaningful. It's hard to read sometimes how very little freedom or even value women had in 15-16th century China, but the characters' perseverance and heart is so admirable. Highly recommended.

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This book is meticulously researched and brings the reader into the world of women living in 15th century China. See's writing is beautiful and I loved learning more about female doctors at that time. The problem for me was the pacing - it was so slow until the last third of the book and I had to force myself to keep reading. Ultimately. I was glad I did but I wish the storytelling had been as compelling as the lives these women led.

3.5 stars

Thanks to Scribner for the copy to review.

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