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Lady Tan's Circle of Women

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Member Reviews

3.5 STARS - I've read and enjoyed two of Lisa See's earlier novels (The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane and The Island of Sea Women) so I was excited to hear she had a new book coming out. Lady Tan's Circle of Women is set in the 15th and 16th century in China and follows the life of Tan Yunxian, a woman born to a privileged family who grew up surrounded by women who greatly influenced her life.

The story is told through Yunxian's POV and is broken up into the different parts of her life - from a young girl to a newly married woman living in her mother-in-law's house, to her roles as wife and mother. The story centres around the relationships she builds with her grandmother who taught her traditional medicine, her mother, her best friend and one of her father's concubines. But despite being born to privilege, Yunxian remains marginalized due to her gender and the reader witnesses the many restrictions forced upon women - including foot binding of young girls, the pressure of wives to produce sons and the selling of concubines.

I enjoyed learning about Chinese history, culture and, at a time when women had little agency over their fates, reading how Yunxian and her grandmother were pioneers in the male-dominated field of traditional Chinese medicine. I appreciate See's detailed (and often poignant) descriptions of childbirth, how concubines and wives were treated, and the excruciating food binding procedures young girls experienced. I don't think I'll ever forget the scene on the bridge and the 'crack'.

It is clear a lot of time and energy went into researching this book. The story is filled with details and vivid descriptions of medical procedures, the beautiful homes and gardens and clothing of the era. But it sometimes felt like these lengthy descriptions got in the way of the storytelling and made the book feel a bit longwinded.

This is a well-researched and character-driven story about the female experience and the important relationships between women. Woven into the story are themes of misogyny, social status, and the vivid descriptions of Chinese history and culture. This book would make an excellent book club selection.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Scribner Books for the advanced copy I received in exchange for my honest review.

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(Will be published 6 June 2023)

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See

Another book that reflects as much on the present as on the past, Lady Tan’s Circle of Women sheds light on the lack of real research into health issues that affect women. Ignorance of how women’s bodies function has resulted in many unnecessary deaths around the world.

The book also draws parallels with the present the control of women’s bodies, from the buying and selling of concubines and other servants, to the restriction of their movement to the inner rooms of the family compounds, to the physical manipulation of footbinding that leaves our main character constantly off-balance, quite literally.

It was not until I reached the end of the book that I discovered that this book is based around the history of a real woman, Yunxian Tan, who lived in 15th century China. Despite the restrictions Covid-19 placed on her usual research methods, Lisa See has once again successfully transported her readers into the past.

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This book was amazing. It’s the fictional story of a very real Doctor who lived and lost and practiced medicine in 15th century china. Each part highlighted one portion of Tan Yunxian’s life and each one brought with it its own mystery and wonder. In fact, the second part was so moving I spent the entirety of it in tears. Lisa See really knows how to capture the plight and peril of women, as well as their companionship and friendship.

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Lisa See is a best-selling American author of Asian themed historical fiction novels. Her previous books include "The Island of Sea Women", "The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane" and "Shanghai Girls". In this book we travel to 15th century China and into the fictionalized life of an actual woman, Yunxian Tan. She was trained by her grandparents to be a doctor. Her family was esteemed and she was married at the age of 15 to a family of even higher rank. Expected to stay within the confines of her husband's family compound and give birth to sons, she finds a way to continue her learning and become a respected doctor. The author pieced together her possible life story based on her actual book "Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor" which is still available. This well researched book is a fabulous recommendation for historical fiction fans or readers interested in early medical practices. I loved it!

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“Friendship is a contract between two hearts. With hearts united, women can laugh and cry, live and die together” (Lady Tam’s Circle of Women)
I love it when I start reading a book and it immediately transports me into a world where I am captivated by the characters, intrigued by the plot, and seduced by the setting. I started reading this novel one Sunday and my world stopped for the entire day until I was finished.
The story follows The life of Tan Yunxian, one of the few female doctors in 15th Century China. We first meet Yunxian when she is 8 where her feet are newly bound and her mother is teaching her traditional ways in which to be a wife and mother. However, upon the unexpected death of her mother, Yunxian is sent to live with her father’s parents. Her grandparents are of a different sort, they are a noble family, but not merchants or politicians but rather, her grandfather and her grandmother are doctors. They soon realize that Yunxian is a brilliant girl and her grandmother begins to teach her how to be a ‘doctor of women’ focusing on the four components of Chinese medicine: listening, looking, touching, and most importantly asking.
Obviously, it’s not easy being a woman in 15th century China where women are treated as belongings and the gaps between social classes are vast, so as Yunxian grows older she has to navigate her traditional role as a wife and mother in a noble family and as a doctor for women of every class without bringing “shame” upon her husband’s family.
This is a wonderful book about female friendship. The bond between mother and daughter, and the bond between women friends is beautifully developed and I found myself tearing up in scenes where the love and loyalty between characters shone. As women we truly are stronger when we stick together through adversity, support each other in our successes, and laugh and cry with each other through heartbreak and joy.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster and Netgalley for the free copy.

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This was a great read. Lisa See brings to life a 15th century female doctor in China, her challenges in the stratified, patriarchal culture and her success at building circles of female friends and relatives for mutual support, including a lifelong cross-class friendship with a midwife. Very well written, full of interesting facts and lots of imagination. Pulled you forward, wondering not if she "fell in love and had a happy marriage," like so much women's fiction, but if she would finally have a son and redeem herself in her mother-in-law's eyes, and could she stay friends with her bestie. Vivid descriptions of the pain and risk of foot binding. Interesting reference to early smallpox vaccinations. I recommend this book! 

Thank you netgalley, publisher, author.

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[arc review]
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing an arc in exchange for an honest review.
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women releases June 6, 2023

This story, partly inspired by real historical events, is split into 4 succinct parts — phases of a woman’s life: milk days, hair pinning days, rice and salt days, and sitting quietly.

At the start, our main character's mother dies from a bound foot infection. Accompanied by their fathers concubine, Yunxian and her brother travel to their grandparents residence, where they briefly live before we see Yunxian enter her arranged marriage and life with the Yang family at the Garden of Fragrant Delights.

I was worried that this would be a bit too outside of my comfort zone when it comes to historical fiction, but I quickly found it so easy to read and understand, and didn’t want to put it down.
The writing was so vivid, with layers of depth and complexity. You feel so greatly for the characters in the different stages of their life. The women rallying together after Meiling’s traumatizing loss was such an incredibly moving scene.

The medical elements and practices made this such an engrossing read for me, and I’ve always been interested in the workings of Eastern medicine with how it ties to your overall qi; balancing hot and cold, yin and yang, etc. and utilizing more herbal properties.

There was even a bit of a mystery incorporated as well with Doctor Wong and the loopholes of trying to secure lineage!

Definitely read this if you’re looking for a female centered story with a lot of great supporting characters.
The unique friendship that developed between Yunxian and Meiling was my favourite — one between a midwife and a physician — and I love how it didn’t shy away from the hardships that true friendships go through. There was so much growth between them, some animosity at times and class discrepancies, but in the end, they really came into their own and saw what mattered most.

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Lisa See is one of my favourite authors. Her books are so unique and well-researched, and she’s such a talented writer. My two favourites are Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and the Island of Sea Women, but I think that Lady Tan’s Circle of Women has now risen to the top of the list!

It begins in the Fifth Year of the Chenhua Emperor’s Reign, which is in 1469. I love that it is based on a true story- Tan Yunxian really was a woman physician from the fifteenth century. The story is structured through the four phases of a woman’s life: milk days, hair pinning, rice-and-salt, and finally, sitting quietly. Yunxian is born into wealth, and learns from her grandmother, who is a doctor, the Four Examinations- looking, listening, touching, and asking. She also becomes close friends with a mid-wife, and the societal differences between the two were stark, as physicians cannot touch blood, meanwhile the midwives are lower in status and carry out “dirty” work.

So many details from this time period piqued my interest: the marriage bed (the chambers, the carvings, the secret compartments), foot-binding (thankfully the details weren’t quite as grizzly as in Snow Flower), the Garden of Fragrant Delights and Mansion of Golden Light, their diagnosis and treatment practices, and the clothing descriptions. I was enthralled.

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women publishes on June 6. I definitely recommend checking it out! Thank you to @simonschusterca @netgalley and @lisasee_writer for my gifted copy!

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I really loved this book. It's not my usual genre, but it absolutely blew me away. I loved the characters, the intricacies within everyone just felt so well done. And the plot was incredible, it felt expertly written in a way that kept me on my toes. I loved the mystery elements, they were so captivating. I also really enjoyed just learning about the culture of this time period, the foot binding was particularly interesting to read about from the fictional perspective of someone who bound their feet. I definitely want to read more from Lisa See, this was stunning

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4.5 stars

Lisa See's latest novel, inspired by the true story of the woman physician from 15th century China who wrote Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor, is a captivating story that exemplifies everything that I love about historical fiction!

The story begins in 1469 during the Ming dynasty when 8 year-old Tan Yunxian is sent to live with her grandparents after her family suffers a grievous loss. Yunxian's grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China and she is determined to teach her granddaughter about the pillars of Chinese medicines (the Four Examinations) and the treatment of women's illnesses many of which are related to childbearing and are not well understood by male physicians. Although they are from different classes, Yunxian's grandmother arranges for her to meet Meiling who is training with her mother to become a midwife and the two develop a deep and enduring life-long friendship.

Over the course of Yunxian's life, we learn of the painful and debilitating practice of foot binding of upper class girls, arranged marriages, childbirth and the importance placed on giving birth to sons, the role of concubines, and the restrictions placed on women like Yunxian whe were confined to their family compounds as well as the various ailments of women that she learned to treat.

Lady Tan's Circle of Women is a wonderful reimagining of the life of an incredible woman who lived several hundred years ago. Well-written and extensively researched, the novel immerses the reader in the lives of these women living in 15th century China and educates with respect to the living conditions they experienced at the time. It's a novel about women's lives and women's health and the importance of being surrounded by a circle of women supporting each other. It's about women whose lives are restrained by traditions but still have the fortitude to make a difference in the lives of other women. A wonderful, memorable read!!

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.

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My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

My Review:

I received a digital ARC of this book from Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review- thanks!

This was my first Lisa See book, but it certainly will not be the last. From the first chapter, I was hooked into her prose and storytelling. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and I am quite excited to have found another author whose work I can read and enjoy within it. I enjoyed learning about Chinese culture in the 15th century, especially through the lens of a woman who was pushing the envelope during her time. This book certainly was not always an easy read (with its hard topics, gruesome descriptions, and very long chapters), but it was certainly worth sticking through.

Lady Tan follows the title character over her lifetime, which felt longer than it was but she was only in her thirties I believe when the story ended. She went from young girl, to young woman, to wife and mother, and eventually assuming her title as Lady Tan and doctor. The time passing was confusing at times, especially when reading it from the view of 21st century, where my mind kept filling in her age with what I felt was an appropriate age but Yunxian was much much younger throughout most of the book.

I think that was one of the hardest things to read in this book: the age of girls when these societal expectations were pressed upon them. It was sometimes cringy from a modern perspective (them getting married and pregnant at fourteen), but never challenged within the book as it was cultural norm. That didn’t make it any easier to read, so I will leave you with that warning.

The most interesting part of this book certainly was the medicine and the way that Yunxian was taught to treat and understand it. Similarly to early Western medicine, there was emphasis on different intangible parts of one another, as the author pointed out in the forward. I enjoyed the elegant that was given to the treatments and the way that she came to view and treat the women in her household.

All in all, I did enjoy reading this book. I am excited to pick up Lisa See’s backlist in the future!

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women releases June 6th, 2023

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Lisa See usually knocks it out of the park when it comes to a really immersive historical fiction, filled with excellent research, and Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is no different. Based off the story of Tan Yunxian, a female physician in China during the Ming Dynasty, this follows Yunxian throughout an imagined life which ties in with the real cases in the book she published at 50 (which is still in print!). This was once again a fascinating and informative novel from See, and I was hooked from start to finish. The stories of women and their ways of carving out power and autonomy in this novel were lovely.

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*many thanks for @netgalley and @simonschusterca for the early copy in exchange for my review*

Well this was fascinating! Tan Yunzian (Lady Tan) is introduced in the 1400’s, as a young girl who lives during the Ming dynasty and is watching her grandmother heal women in her care. See has based her novel on the medical writings and various medical cases of the real Tan Yunzian. It was quite fascinating learning about the process of foot binding, (and its horrific complications) life of elite Chinese families who strive for male heirs and the buying and selling of concubines to be assured of a male heir. Generally she explores life during the Ming dynasty for all classes. Yunzian was a physician who wanted to break free from the more traditional ways of treating women and girls in a healthcare system dominated by males. Another extraordinary woman in history! I am always amazed at the research and interest some authors have in certain subjects. See’s end notes describe in detail her very specific writing process for this novel, and it is commendable and intriguing to read about her process. I really liked this!
Women supporting women! What’s not to like? If you are a historical fiction lover and particularly if you’ve liked @lisasee_writer other novels, I think you will like this!

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When I first saw this book as one of the new releases this year, I knew immediately I wanted to read it. This books follows the life of Tan Yunxian, a female doctor. This character is based on a real woman who lived during the Ming Dynasty in China. She published a collection of medical cases she worked on throughout her life that can still be read today. It is clear that Lisa See did a lot of research when writing this book. The author provides readers with a realistic glimpse of the ceremonies and events that likely shaped a higher class woman’s life during this period. I really enjoyed learning about Tan Yunxian‘s life and medical knowledge that helped treat the women around her.

This book focuses on a relationships that Tan Yunxian has with the woman around her, Her friend Meiling is the daughter of a midwife and their relationship spans across many years. Together the face many unique medical cases as they try to provide care to others. They often challenge eachother’s thinkings since they are from different classes in society. Reader’s are provided with unique perspectives from woman born in completely different life circumstances. One woman is bound to the inner chambers of her husband’s house and the other is allowed to freely roam the world outside.

As I read this book, it played in my mind like a movie. I really wish it could be made into a movie or tv show since it has so many interesting events. This books spans across Yunxiang’s life including her marriage and work as a female doctor. It has become a book that will be included among my top recommendations for those who like to read realistic historical fiction.

Thank you NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Yunxian is a girl in the late 1400s, and Lisa See tells her story of growing up in her family in China. Yunxian is a strong protagonist from the start, with a connection to her grandmother, a doctor, and her best friend, a midwife. These relationships inspire her as she gets married and has children, and throughout her life, sees the clash between the traditional ways and her spirit. With a focus on female relationships and the power they have, See writes of the often unheard stories of women in medicine, before they were allowed to be in this space.

While beautifully written, this book is very similar in tone and in theme to See’s other novels, fans of hers will enjoy this tale, but I’m left wondering what she could do if she stretched further out of her comfort zone. See is a wonderful storyteller, but it could be time for her to find some new stories to tell.

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I always enjoy Lisa See’s books and I was anticipating a great read with this one and I was definitely not disappointed. The research that went into this book was extensive, making it a compelling read about women, foot binding, pregnancy, midwifery and female doctors. Add in concubines and the hierarchy that goes along with the world of privilege in ancient China.
The story opens with eight year old Tan Yunxian, the daughter and granddaughter of a wealthy and educated family whose background is medicine. Because of a tragedy, she is sent to live with her paternal grandparents and her grandmother soon begins to teach the young girl the basics of medicine. The book explores friendships that develop within the walls of her grandparents home, Meiling being one of them. She is the daughter of the midwife and not of the same class as Yunxian but the girls/women do their best to get as much time together and forge a long lasting friendship. These women struggle to make their way in “a man’s world” as their lives are centered around the all-encompassing male dominance during this time. Yunxian didnt always fit into the role of obeisance but that made her story a unique one, as well as her love of medicine and healing the sick.
I’m always a bit sad when a great story ends and I really was with this one. The history and detail in this book make it an incredibly interesting read. If you love history, strong female characters, a bit of romance and intrigue, I highly recommend this book. Lisa See outdid herself this time! Well done.

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This book was an absolute treat! It takes place in 1469 and follows the life of Yunxian Tan as she grows from learning traditional medicine that has been passed down for generations in her grandmother's family, to a woman doctor in her own right.

I loved the feeling that I was learning alongside Yunxian. I know nothing about traditional Chinese medicine and all the principles it's based on, so learning about all the ingredients, how Yunxian and Grandmother Ru diagnose and treat a patient. It was all so fascinating. Each case was like a tiny mystery to be solved. Because of focus on medicine and mystery, this book reminds me a lot of one of my favourite light-novel-turned-manga-soon-to-be-turned-into-anime series The Apothecary Diaries.

The descriptions in his book were sumptuous. I littered the book with notes saying "yum" every time I came across something like "I hate the cold, but I can appreciate the brutal purity of it. Snowflakes dance in the air, carried by the wind. Icicles hang like ivory chopsticks from the caves". There were also a lot of fresh metaphors! And so many great details on clothing, food, makeup, hair; everything was depicted so beautifully.

I loved the characters in this book. Yunxian was easy to root for, wonderfully human with her own flaws and jealousies. I loved seeing her relationship with the women in her life strengthen as they went through ups and downs. Her friendship with Meiling was so sweet and I felt so afraid for both of them the entire time! Don't even get me into the love Yunxian's father, grandmother and grandfather had for her. It was extremely sweet!

Lisa See made sure each character, even ones with goals opposed to what Yunxian wanted, were presented in a complex way and not wholly good or evil. I liked that a lot.

The plot was fascinating, especially because there was a mystery thrown in that took decades to unfold! It was good!! Even though I had an idea of who the culprit was (due to the excellent foreshadowing), it was still executed in an extremely satisfying way.

All in all, it was a fascinating book that really exceeded my expectations. I liked this book much better than the previous Lisa See book I read, Snowflower and the Secret Fan.

Thank you NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest opinion.

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This was one of my most anticipated new releases for 2023, and it did not disappoint!

Set in 15th century China the story centers on Tan Yunxian, born into a wealthy, educated family. After experiencing a tragic loss at the tender age of eight, she is sent to live with her paternal grandparents. It is here that she is taught how to practice medicine by her grandmother, and given purpose during a time when women were expected only to maintain a household, look beautiful and birth sons-- a future that Tan Yunxian, herself, eventually faces when she is sent into an arranged marriage.

At the very core of this story is the beautiful friendship forged by women, and the sacrifices they make. While this story was set several centuries ago, there are parallels to be made to the struggles that women still face today in a patriarchal system.

The breadth of detail and research that Lisa See has put into this novel made me feel entirely immersed in this period of time. Being as I work in the medical field, I was also completely and utterly fascinated with the historical accounts of medicinal practices during this period of time, and equally disturbed by some, such as foot binding.

To recap: strong female characters challenging expected gender roles, while rich in historical detail-- what more could you ask for in a story? This novel was exceptional and perhaps Lisa See's best to date. It is going to stick with me for a while!

Pub date: 6 June 2023

A big thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada and NetGalley for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Another amazing, well researched, captivating book from Lisa See. It was fascinating learning about Chinese medicine from the time, and following the life of our main character Yunxian. Will be recommending this book a lot!

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One of the most powerful books of women’s strengths in the 1400s during the in China. The book is beautifully written and researched well. It has been a while since I read a a book that shocked, infuriated me due to women’s treatment, taught me also about medical history and the way women rose above such suffering. The author is an amazing writer and I will most definitely be reading more of her books. I couldn’t stop talking to friends and family about it. One of the books I must have on my library shelf.

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