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Lady Tan's Circle of Women

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Member Reviews

Thank you to Net Galley for providing an early copy of Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See

Lisa See has based her latest riveting historical novel in 1500s China as she unravels the intricate story of real-life doctor Tan Yunxian of the Ming Dynasty.. From the first page to the last, readers will experience a life lived to the fullest possible for the times. Lady Tan kept a careful journal of her medical practices that stun practitioners of today. Remedies for illness, early vaccination, childbirth difficulties and plague are just some of the areas where Lady Tan worked tirelessly to ease suffering.

A paradox to her unceasing effort is the fact that females were not honored in her lifetime. Many times within these pages "only a girl" or "must produce a male child" along with other degrading words and actions result in hurt to everyone. It is also sad that reading of Lady Tan's difficulties reminds us that gender bias and inequality exist all over the world to this day.

Characters come easily into focus, dialog is well crafted and relevant, descriptive passages are authentic and lasting. Particularly strong are the supporting circle of women without whom Lady Tan would not be able to succeed.
Lisa See has again created a world where the reader can step in, can experience and can be forever changed.

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Give this book all of the stars. Lisa See is an amazing storyteller, and Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is right there at the top.
Meticulously researched, I felt like I was in fifteenth century China.. I could see each flower or piece of jewelry that was being described.
Heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time, Lady Tan was an incredible woman, doctor, matriarch and friend.

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I read this in less than a day, which I hadn't intended and didn't have time for, to be honest, but it was compelling and I couldn't put it down. The Acknowledgments section at the end thrilled me as much as the book. It's where I learned that during the pandemic, Lisa See finally notice a book on her shelves that she'd never read before, "Reproducing Women: Medicine, Metaphor, and Childbirth in Late Imperial China" by Yu-Li Wu. She sat down to read it and found a mention of Tan Yunxian, a woman doctor who wrote about her medical cases in 1511. See found the book is still available, including in an English translation, and her next historical fiction novel began coming together in her mind. I love knowing this.

It's a master who can tell a story about a time long before our own in such amazing detail you feel like you're there; and also one set in a culture so unlike our own but that is so relatable and understandable. I loved reading what is clearly very detailed research into details, settings, hierarchy, life in privileged society, medical care, and ethics of the time and so much more.

And the plot is very interesting. This is a fascinating story about women in 14 and 1500s China, specifically a female character with high standing--an unintentional play on words when you consider foot-binding, which crippled women and limited their mobility. We see Tan Yunxian move throughout the seasons of her life, first getting training in doctoring and then being a doctor, and I was very interested in the characters and story and couldn't put it down. SUCH a good read.

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Lisa See’s latest is a compelling fictional rendition of the life of a real Ming dynasty woman, drawn from extensive research that includes accounts written by the lady herself. Though raised to be completely a woman of her time, a time when a high-born woman’s life was confined from birth to death to the inner courtyard of first her family, then her husband’s family home, Tan Yunxian is also influenced by her more liberal grandparents, who take her in after the death of her mother. Her grandmother is a rarity—a practicing physician who gradually teaches Yunxian all she knows about treating and healing women. Into her grandmother’s house also comes the midwife, whose daughter Meiling becomes Yunxian’s friend and confidante. The two girls vow to be friends forever, wherever life takes them, and the healing treatments that fascinate them both require working in tandem. Touching blood is considered unclean, so a physician never actually handles a patient, whereas the midwife’s job often exposes her to bodily fluids. In a society in which the extended family lives within a single compound and which values women for their ability to produce sons, the midwife is a vital and frequent visitor. But when Yunxian marries, her mother-in-law forbids her to see her friend or to use her expertise to help the women of her new family. As Lady Tan struggles to fit into her new home, find a place within the hierarchy of the women of the Inner Courtyard, please her husband, and produce the essential son, she continues her study, hoping eventually to be able to use her skills and see her friend again. A compelling study of everyday life in a bygone era, See’s novel includes details of traditional Chinese medicine and remedies, some of which are still used today, some of which are taken from the case book kept by Lady Tan herself. Immersive and fascinating! Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the advance review copy.

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Every few years, I pick up a Lisa See novel, and I always enjoy my time with the novel. Unlike some authors, I don't binge See's novels and instead find myself returning to the novel, like clockwork, to read a chapter at a time. This s how I recommend reading this one: a cup of coffee or tea in hand while enjoying a daily chapter because this book invites reflection.

My time with Yunxian left a deep impression on me, though this may be a biased statement as I've always found medical history intensely captivating. This ranks at the top of my favorite See books now, and I can't recommend it enough.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advanced copy. Tan Yunxian was a real doctor in China in the 15th century and the book is inspired by her and the book she published. Tan Yunxian experiences death at an early age is sent to be raised by her paternal grandparents who practice medicine. Her Grandmother is one of few women doctors and teachers her the principals of women’s medicine. The book follows Tan Yunxians entire lifespan.

I was fascinated by the ancient medicinal techniques and I enjoyed the historical context and telling of the story.

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There are very few Lisa See books that I don’t love. This was another one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I love that she is doing historical fiction now. Her previous historical fiction book was wonderful. If you know little about China they are very enlightening.

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Well written and well researched. However, I'm more interested in being told a story, not in the author trying to showcase her research skills. This was too slow-moving. See hasn't written an "outstanding " novel since Snowflake and the Secret Fan.

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Lisa See has the amazing ability to make the lives of women in China in the 15th century relatable to modern readers. Readers can feel along with the characters the pain of losing a mother or a child, of having a miscarriage or a still birth, of longing for a baby for many years, of a husband's infidelity. This was a truly captivating story. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

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Lisa See is a researcher extraordinaire. I have read every one of her books but the amount of research and specific detail in this book is literally mind blowing. I can’t even imagine the number of hours that she put in to create a fascinating look reflecting the life of a Chinese woman doctor in the 1400s. The story begins with the friendship of two little girls, one the daughter of a midwife (Meiling) who assists her mother and the other a member of a titled family (Yunxian). Their loneliness for a playmate their age draws them together despite the difference in social class. Yunxian is instructed by her grandmother, a female doctor, in the art of healing and goes on to follow in her footsteps. A midwife is considered doing dirty blood work, while a doctor should never touch blood, but their relationship bond is stronger than steel. The story goes into detail about your Yunxian’s arranged marriage and the roles and responsibilities as second lady of the estate. Vivid detailed descriptions are given regarding the sheltered life of women within the court and the “female” tasks that they are taught such as embroidery, the attention to their bound feet, and scrutiny towards fashion, hair design and hair jewelry.
Women are totally subservient to men and the practice of binding one’s foot is told with excruciating horror and minutiae. The binding is designed to titillate and please the husband without regard to the suffering that women continue to have lifelong. Correspondingly, a woman is a failure unless she has a son to continue the lineage; that is one of her sole purposes. Many of the passages reflect the young women’s relationship as they grow older and the trials and tribulations that life delivers to them. Yunxian’s evolution of becoming a doctor and publishing a book also reflects how important the circle of women have been to her life. Many of the treatments in her book are still used to this day. I fear that some people my find the constant naming of flowers and herbs and treatment modalities to be a bit much, but personally I found it fascinating. A phenomenal woman- a phenomenal story. Fans of Lisa See will not be disappointed.

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Another hit!!! Lisa See has done it again. I love reading her books. I wish they would publish faster, however then the research Lisa See does and all the time she puts into writing a good story might not happen. I highly recommend this novel as I do are of her other books.

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Lisa See wrote another beautiful historical fiction; this one set in 15th century China. This fictional account of Tan Yunxian, a woman physician during the Ming dynasty is fascinating. One learns about the trials and tribulations of a woman's life during this time, but also about medicine and how things were described via yin and yang. There are a few parts where the description of the treatment may go on a tad too long. However, if you like to be immersed in a culture in the past this book is for you.

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Lady Tan's Circle of Women
by Lisa See Pub Date: June 6, 2023
Scribner
Thanks to the author, publisher, and Net Galley for the ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
This is a great historical fiction. I learned a lot about the culture in this family saga.
I highly recommend for readers who enjoyed her other books.
4 stars

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Amazing story that weaves history and family. 15th century Asia and its culture is the background of this family saga. Lisa See seamlessly teaches the reader about culture and ritual while telling an intriguing story that can not be put down!

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This is a well witten and researched book, however I found it to be slow moving. My attention often wavered and I found myself skimming some of the extended medical cases and treatments.
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I really loved this story of Ancient China in the Ming Dynasty. This tells the story of Tan Yunxian - a female doctor in the 14th century in China. She was born to imperial scholars and was raised to practice medicine by her grandmother - who learned medicine and helped women with troubles only other women could attend to. This story was informative and very interesting. I loved reading a story that shows how women are both revered in Ancient Chinese families and limited by their gender and status in society. I recommend this story for anyone who loves Asian historical fiction and who wants to learn more about Tan Yunxian.

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Lisa See's novels are always delightful. Learning more about Chinese history and the treatment of women was a nice change from other books I've been reading.

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Wow! This was a fantastic book. I finished it in 2 days because I couldn’t put it down. Are all of Lisa See’s stories as immersive and detailed as this? Because if so, I’m about to read her whole catalog.

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women spans Lady Tan’s entire life. We get to see her first as a child and then follow her all the way until her late years. I loved seeing her character grow and her mindset change through the different phases of her life. The writing style changed and matured as the character was changing and maturing as well, which made the reading experience that much more interesting.

The story was immersive. The writing was descriptive enough that I felt like I could picture everything clearly. I found myself constantly thinking about the amount of research the author must’ve done in order to write this, and the note at the end confirms that Lisa See did indeed do an extensive amount of research to make this as historically accurate (in terms of geography and customs) as possible.

I’m also really impressed with how the medical practices were described. I was initially a little confused, but everything medical was explained really well and just enough so that I understood but wasn’t overwhelmed with the technicality of anything.

This book had a strong focus on the relationships between women, and I loved seeing how Lady Tan was able to find her support circle and find ways to help and connect with the women around her. The little mysteries and intricacies of court politics felt like a bonus to the deeper themes and added a lot of entertainment.

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Thank you NetGalley for the chance to read and review this advance copy.

Whew! I could NOT put this down for the last half of the book. So well-researched and engaging. We follow the life of Tan Yunxian, a real-life doctor from 15th century China. I'm seeing a pattern in many of the books I choose - woman overcomes adversity (usually inflicted by men) to ultimately succeed in life. And this was no exception. Yunxian, raised in an upper class family, loses loved ones, learns Eastern medicine from her grandmother, is married off to a stranger, endures heartbreak and literal bone breaking (foot binding!), makes a lifelong friend from a different economic strata, and solves a controversial medical mystery.

The descriptions of China are lush and lovely as are the details of what the characters wore. The story moves quickly but not so quick that essential plot points are skipped. My biggest complaint is the graphic descriptions of the foot binding and crime punishments but I'm a sensitive reader.

4 stars!

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We start our story in 1469, when Tan Yunxian, at eight years of age, goes to live with her grandparents. A whole new world unfolds in front of her as she enjoys their aperture and their willingness to share their medical knowledge despite social conventions and traditions. While Miss Zhao, her father’s concubine, introduces her to the idea of the importance of the support of female friendships, it is her grandmother who allows Yunxian to forge a close friendship with a young midwife-in-training, Meiling, already recognizing the ways the girls complement each other. The constraints of Yunxian’s social standing do not leave her room to practice the knowledge acquired from her grandparents or to even maintain a friendship with Meiling. As obstacles arise, Yunxian, aided by the circle of important women in her life, finds the strength to move forward and fulfill her higher purpose.

Thoughts:
This is the reimagining of the story of Tan Yunxian, a female physician of 15th century China and a remarkable figure of her time, who published the earliest medical writings by a female in 1511, titled Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor. Thanks to the author’s extensive research (do not miss her afterword), we get a beautiful and compelling account of what Tan Yunxian’s life might have looked like - from the beautiful hairpins and attire worn, to the dwellings and gardens surrounding women of her social stature. We also get a closer look at the practices and traditions of the time and the contrasting impact on both Yunxian and Meiling, and on their friendship, a bond that will be tested by the ebbs and flows of their own lives.

Ultimately, this is a brilliant, engaging story of how women come together to uplift, inspire, and support each other, and about the strength and comfort drawn from that special relationship. To say that I loved this book is an understatement. I highly recommend it. A five-star read for me.

Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for providing me with a free digital copy to review this book.
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