Lady Tan's Circle of Women: A Novel (Hardcover)
June 2023 Indie Next List
“Another incredible historical fiction by Lisa See! I was jetted back to 15th-century China, where I knew little of foot binding and a woman’s role in medicine. See dives deep into a perfect mix of historical facts and mesmerizing story.”
— Penny Weiland, Birchbark Books & Native Arts, Minneapolis, MN
Once again, Lisa See educates as she entertains by immersing readers into a little-known world, this time the Ming dynasty of five centuries ago. Tan Yunxian is born into a wealthy family and expected to graciously serve her parents, husband, and in-laws, living her whole privileged life isolated within the family's inner chambers. She is not expected to study and practice medicine–in spite of descending from a long line of healers. Yet Yunxian is determined to learn from her paternal grandmother, one of the very few female doctors in China, in order that she can help save women like her own mother who died at the young age of 28.
With her characteristically extensive research and brilliant storytelling, Lisa See draws us into an ancient world that still resonates today. Highly recommended!
— Shirley Wells
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.
— Katie Couric Media
"Based on the writings of an historical Ming dynasty female physician, See’s accomplished novel immerses readers in a fascinating life lived within a fascinating culture."
— Starred Booklist
"Engrossing…rich…packed with historical detail…Women’s friendships in a world where they have little freedom shape a quietly moving book."
— Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Lisa See
"See is one of those special writers capable of delivering both poetry and plot."
—New York Times Book Review
Praise for Island of Sea Women
“Vivid ... thoughtful and empathetic ... necessary."
—New York Times Book Review
“Lisa See’s mesmerizing new historical novel…celebrates women’s strengths—and the strength of their friendships.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“Painstakingly researched…deft…a powerful and essential story of humanity.”
—The Los Angeles Review of Books
"Compelling ... takes readers on a journey spanning generations — in this case 1938 to 2008 — as moments of cherished friendship, unspeakable tragedy and, in the end, a plot twist worthy of Raymond Chandler unfold."