Cover Image: Lady Tan's Circle of Women

Lady Tan's Circle of Women

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Member Reviews

I’ve read a number of Lisa See’s novels in the past and have enjoyed them. (Shanghai Girls and its follow-up, Dreams of Joy, are two favorites.) So when I received the @NetGalley ARC for See’s latest novel, Lady Tan’s Circle of Women, I was excited. See always transports me to a new place and time, does solid research, and makes me care about her characters. 

The novel focuses on Tan Yunxian, one of China’s few female doctors in the fifteenth century and author of Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor. According to See’s acknowledgements, “in a standard catalog of the twelve thousand known Chinese medical works to be found in Chinese libraries, only three were written by women, with Tan Yunxian’s text being the earliest.” See took some of the cases Tan recorded in her book as a jumping off point for her novel. 

Here’s the thing: I think the subject matter was interesting and I think See did a phenomenal job researching this book. It’s not my favorite novel of hers, though. I thought that this was a bit too long and sometimes was tedious to read. (I was convinced that I had reached the end of the book at the end of part three only to find that there was an additional section to read.) I think if the narrator had taken on a more active role in telling the story (more showing and less telling) I would have been a bit more engaged. I loved the information. I loved learning about something new. I loved seeing how an author takes bits and pieces of history and imagines a life for a historical figure. I just think the execution wasn’t done as well as some of her previous books. 

This ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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In Lady Tan’s Circle of Women, we are transported to 15th-century China. Main character Yunxian is a young girl who will soon be trained by her grandmother as a doctor.

This is my third novel by Lisa See, and each one has been so thoroughly researched. We are given a vivid picture of life during that time for a woman.

Also typical for her books are themes of female friendship, loyalty, and motherhood. In addition, her main character attempts to break down certain social barriers.

I found the subject matter fascinating, but the book as a whole seemed longer than it needed to be, and the first half especially was quite slow, plot wise. There were a couple of unexpected twists, and the ending, while drawn out, was satistying.

🥰I would put this book on par with The Island of Sea Women. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is still my favorite of hers.

⚠️Note: This story involves medical treatments and procedures used during that time, and some descriptions are fairly graphic. (I was grossed out a couple times.) Foot-binding procedures are described in great detail, along with births and a stillbirth.

⚠️Profanity: none
Sexual content: 2/5 (While not explicit, there is much discussion of “bedroom matters,” and “the child gate/palace.”)

Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley for my ARC! @netgalley @scribnerbooks
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Lisa See is an automatic read for me.
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a magnificent read. See’s words paint context so rich and descriptive I was able to envision exactly the environment of 15th century China.
I love how the novel is based on a real woman whose life is veiled in obscurity. I loved how the book focused in women and how they interacted with each others from the different class structures and social conventions.
While I cringed and winced with the foot binding and seethed at the unfairness to women, See remains true to the historical precepts.
Pain and suffering, joy and sorrow are all part of the plot and it’s a delightful read.
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Lisa See has knocked it out of the literary book park once again. Based on the life of one of so few women physician's, she's managed to provide sincere information about this amazing woman and bring it vividly to life. An important book that should be at the top of everyone's TBR pile this summer.
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I absolutely loved this book! I have been wanting to learn more about Asian history, and Lisa See's novels hit the sweet spot of being both informative and engaging. I had high expectations for Lady Tan's Circle of Women, and it did not let me down! 

My favorite aspect of this book was the bonds between Tan Yunxian and all of the women in her life. These characters were so well-crafted; they felt real, and their struggles and triumphs touched my heart. 

This book deals heavily with medieval Eastern medical practices, a topic about which I know nothing. This could have been very confusing to me, or the explanations could've come across as condescending in an effort to achieve clarity. See manages to teach the reader enough about these concepts to allow for easy understanding without over-explaining.

This was a great book, and one that I'll look forward to rereading someday. If you're looking for a historical fiction novel with a unique plot and strong female characters, Lady Tan's Circle of Women will be just the right reading selection for you!
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I have been a fan of Lisa See’s work for years, so when I got the opportunity to read Lady Tan’s Circle of Women early, I jumped at the chance. This was a moving and beautifully written story. I did not know very much about Chinese traditional medicine before reading this novel, and I found it fascinating.

This book is based upon the real historical figure, Tan Yunxian, and the book she wrote entitled Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor. I really had no idea that women were even allowed to practice medicine in 15th century China (it definitely wasn’t widely accepted), but the fact that she wrote a book that is still referenced today is nothing short of amazing to me. In the historical note, Lisa See does say that not a lot is known about Tan Yunxian’s life, but she pulled all that she could and pieced together a life that feels incredibly real in this story.

The sheer amount of research that See did for this novel is so impressive. I loved learning about Chinese history, medicine, houses, clothing, and occupations in this novel. It was so richly described that I really could envision myself there. The way she described the Forbidden City and the gardens were so accurate, based upon my experiences on my trip to China in 2019. Anytime a historical fiction novel is so obviously well researched without it feeling like you are reading a textbook, I find it to be incredibly impressive.

I loved the friendship between Yunxian and Meiling. Their love for each other overcame so many hardships. Growing up in entirely different life stations, and even being apart from each other for years, did not dim the love they had for one another. That is the kind of friendship that we all aspire to have.

The parts of this book that were hard for me to read were the medical bits. They were well written, but they were emotionally hard to read, especially the parts about foot binding. I am so glad that this practice was finally dissolved in China, but hearing the descriptions of the process and the feelings surrounding it in this novel were fascinating and simultaneously grotesque. The medical practices are so different than what we are used to in modern American society, so that part of this book was fascinating to me.

This is one of those books that is going to stick with me for a long time. It was beautifully written and incredibly moving. I love learning more about my daughter’s birth country, and about the cultural history behind modern day China.

My Rating:

I gave Lady Tan’s Circle of Women 5 Stars!
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This book tells an incredible story of how women can shape history, even at the most seemingly impossible times. 

I love this author! I've read Snowflower and the Secret Fan, also by Lisa See, and this author's words and the pictures painted into my mind have never left me.  This book is of the same ilk.  Something to be read slowly so one can take in and understand all these different angles the author writes on.  Lady Tan's Circle of Women is not just about a woman doctor during the mid 1400's to the early/mid 1500's of China, but this woman's detailed lifetime full of experiences that can be related to today even. 

This book is indeed about a circle, the circle of women friends, and family that is so important,  the circle of life itself and its ups and downs from youth to old age.  After reading this book, I feel like Lady Tan's experiences will stay in my mind for a long time. 

I can not recommend this historical fiction enough! 

Out June 6, 2023! 

Thank you, Netgalley and Publisher, for this Arc!
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This is an exceptional historical fiction story and female empowerment novel in that the women come together and strive for more despite their circumstances. I loved learning more about China during 15th century. The story is based off a real woman physician, Tan Yunxian, who practiced medicine during the Ming dynasty. 

At the young age of 8, Yunxian began learning from her physician grandmother how to medically treat women and deliver babies (something male Chinese physicians at this time could and would not do). The book depicts her struggles and triumphs as she grows and is a beautifully written coming of age story that provides history and culture along with the emotional ride. 

There was so much that I appreciated about this story and the female support and friendships was great to read. Also, I spent some time doing labor and delivery nursing and there were parts of this book that spoke so deeply to my experiences.

Historical fiction is hit or miss with me. It has to capture my attention with action or interesting well-developed characters and although it is a bit of a slow burn, this story really pulled me in and did the trick. I enjoyed the descriptive and lyrical writing and the glimpse into midwifery and medicine during this period in China and particularly for women in a highly patriarchal society. The foot binding (and many other elements) made me sad 😭 but it was also so insightful. 

I am impressed with the author and imagine it took a lot of research to write this novel. I highly recommend this one to historical fiction lovers. 

4.5/5 stars rounded up
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Wonderful descriptive book. A history lesson as well. Characters lovely to learn about. Learned much about this era i never knew. Easy read and a great discussion book. Many relationships to explore. A definite read!
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I love everything Lisa See. I spend more time googling and learning more than a lot of other books and she writes beautifully
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Another great read by Lisa See! Thank you netgalley for the opportunity to read and review Lady Tan's Circle of Women. 
This historical fiction was a beautiful read that can teach us a lot about women and medicine in the Chinese culture. I love a good historical fiction book that leaves me able to do more research.
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Yunxian finds the knowledge of medicine comforting after her birth mother's death and her move to her grandparent's compound.  As she grows older, her knowledge grows and she is able to help more women than just those in her house.  When she is called by the Empress to assist with her birth, a mystery begins to form.  

Lisa See's latest historical novel based on a female physican form 15th century China is an absolute amazing read.  I found the pacing set by the different 'times' in a woman's life was a relaly great way to keep the pace moving but also to set the scene for what I could be expecting.  Her writing is lush and I could smell the gardens and hear the rustling of gowns.  Yunxian was a protagonist with her own mind and her own morals, a woman who chose to learn and to find happiness and help others.  

An absolute stunner of a book!
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My library purchased 20 copies of this book for a subscription book.  I enjoyed the friendship between women and how they try to negotiate their stations in life without compromising who they are.  Generational novel for people who love women’s fiction.
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My goodness. Based on research alone (and keep in mind this is written about a rare woman doctor in 15th century China) this historical novel deserves 5 stars. So many of the occurrences actually took place that it is amazing to think about. Lisa See writes a compelling story of the lives of women at that time, including foot binding; child birth; lack of freedom of movement, of marriage partner, of activity, of healthcare. Her characters live on the page and her descriptions of place are wonderful. Especially fascinating was the marriage bed which contains 3 rooms! Visit to catch a glimpse of this actual bed! The only overdone part for me was the repetitive listing of the herbs, etc. used in the medicinal teas.

Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner/Simon and Schuster for the ARC to read and review.
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Based on deeply researched stories about the first female physicians from 15th-century China, LADY TAN’S CIRCLE OF WOMEN takes us back to the Ming Dynasty, where a young Tan Yunxian grows up under the caring, upper-class tutelage of her grandmother, who shares her knowledge about Chinese medicine with her. Over the years, Yunxian befriends a poor apprenticing midwife, and together they practice medicine focused on pregnancy and childbirth, as well as puzzle their way through medical emergencies and mysteries, despite the many restrictions that society places on them. When Yunxian is forced into an arranged marriage, it breaks her away from a circle of female friendships and into a space where she fears being confined. That Yunxian finds a way to continue practicing as a physician—in healing arts that continue to influence medicine today—is inspiring.

*Special thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for this e-arc.*
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I love Lisa See’s books. I will continue to read any new ones she writes because her stories are so captivating. I end up learning so much about the culture she writes about, but I also feel deeply connected to her characters. I appreciated that this book felt a little less dark than her last one, and I think I liked the storyline the most out of her past few.

Thanks to Net Galley for the advanced copy.
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Lady Tan's Circle of Women is a powerful read about the strength of women during a time when women had their place - and were also limited by their position in society (15th century China).

Based on a true story, this is  a captivating tale of women helping other women. It is also a reimagining of the life of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming Dynasty and would be considered remarkable today. This is Lisa See doing what Lisa See does best! She transports us to the Ming Dynasty to step inside the lives of several women. Reflecting on the four phases of a woman's life: milk years, hair-pinning, rice and salt, and finally sitting quietly, we follow Yunxian's coming of age and wisdom, 'we are all trapped to some extent by our physical and emotional selves, but each woman is trapped in a different way.' 

This is something I have never thought about, but realize in some small way still exists today. We all have "seasons" of our lives and what transpires in them affects us and the trajectory of our life.  I hope that I am instilling the belief that anything is possible with my own daughter and that she doesn't feel limited in the ways that women did in the 15th century or our current times. I also am left with the thought that we all have a circle of women who help is in good and bad days. I am hopeful that this kindness continues to be extended to others to make us all better people.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Scribner books for sharing the wisdom in Lisa See through her books.  She is a treasure!
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I have yet to read a Lisa See book that I didn't love.  She has the uncanny ability to immerse the reader in whatever time frame and circumstances she is writing about.  I was so very excited to win a copy of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway!

Lady Tan's Circle of Women is a serious, slow burn read.  It is an in-depth look at early 1900 Chinese culture including foot binding, masochism, concubines and the stark differences in socioeconomic levels.  This story follows Yunxian as a young girl who loses her mother at a young age and is raised by her loving, well-educated grandparents. She is treasured by them, and begins to learn the world of medicine and healing - specifically to women -through her Grandmother Ru, who learned from her mother.  While still a teenager,  Yunxian is married off to a wealthy family, in keeping with custom.  The story follows her life as a wife and a mother, her lifelong friendship with the midwife's daughter, Meiling, and her quest to be able to utilize her medical knowledge to treat and heal the women around her.

As expected, the women in this book face so many hardships and struggles.  The supreme goal (and duty) of every wife was to have sons to carry on the family name.  To have no sons was considered failure.   The fear of failure was around every corner.  This book really captures the heartache, loneliness and desolation that women during that timeframe felt.  

Yunxian and Meiling were such well developed characters - as were many of the unlikeable women around them.  The author gives the reader a front seat look at what being a woman with no voice and no control was like.  A look at how easily women turned against each other t0 gain status.  This is definitely a slow burn read, but is also amazing look at the beginnings of medicine and the journey for women to be heard.  There was a depth of emotion to this book that I don't often find.  The friendship between Meiling and Yunxian and the relationship between Yunxian and her grandparents (especially with her grandmother) were so honest and heartfelt.  I was captivated by this book.  There is so much to this story that it's hard to capture it in a review.

If you enjoy historical fiction and learning about different cultures and traditions then I think you will love this one too.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the digital and physical ARC to read and review!
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Lisa See does not disappoint.  Her characters are vivid and elicit compassion.  She presents a true picture of life in 15th century China.
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Lisa See reliably provides yet another vivid journey into a long ago time and place and doesn't disappoint! When I see that she has put out another novel, I know to expect something well-researched, with lots of colorful description and attention to detail. In this novel, she transports us to 15th century China and follows one woman's trajectory as a daughter of a well-to-do family who is trained by her grandparents (and particularly her grandmother) as a doctor. While the plot is good enough by itself, it is really See's ability to place us in the setting that makes her writing so enjoyable. I loved reading about how health and medicine were understood, and also about the family structures and details of daily living. Some authors' descriptions are excessive and tedious, but See keeps it fascinating, relevant, and immersive.
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