“A deftly crafted and thoroughly fun read … especially and unreservedly recommended for elementary school, middle school, and community library Fantasy Fiction collections.” —MBR Midwest Book Review

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women


Based on the writings of an historical Ming dynasty female physician, Lisa See’s Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a mesmerizing tale set in Imperial China during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The novel explores the themes of women empowerment, medicine, and the mind-body connection. The novel beautifully weaves together a rich tapestry of characters, customs, and traditions, bringing the reader on an immersive journey through the fascinating world of Imperial China.

The protagonist, Lady Tan, is a powerful woman who defies societal norms and becomes a successful doctor. She forms a Circle of Women, a group of like-minded women who support each other and the camaraderie and sisterhood depicted in the novel are heartwarming and inspiring. The women in this novel are strong, intelligent, and fiercely independent, making Lady Tan’s Circle of Women a refreshing departure from the patriarchal narratives so often found in historical fiction.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is the portrayal of the medical practices of the time. Lady Tan and her fellow women doctors use traditional Chinese medicine to heal their patients. They use acupuncture, herbs, and other natural remedies to treat a wide range of illnesses. The novel also explores the practice of variolation, which was a precursor to modern-day vaccination. The women doctors use this technique to protect their patients against smallpox , a devastating disease that affected many during that time.

Furthermore, Lady Tan’s Circle of Women delves into the connection between the mind and body, which is a fundamental principle in traditional Chinese medicine. The women doctors recognized the importance of treating not just the physical symptoms of illness but also the emotional and spiritual well-being of their patients. This holistic approach to medicine was ahead of its time and is still relevant today.

Overall, this book is a captivating read that transports the reader to a bygone era. Lisa See’s Lisa See’s writing is vivid and immersive, transporting the reader to a time and place that is both enthralling and enlightening. Her depth of research (the acknowledgement are engrossing in their own right), attention to detail make the characters and their struggles come to life on the page. The novel sheds light on the challenges and triumphs of women during a time when they had little agency and shows how they were able to overcome societal expectations and create meaningful lives for themselves. Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a must-read for anyone interested in the rich history of Imperial China, women’s history, or traditional Chinese medicine.

Highly Recommended

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