Mary's Reviews > The Last Empress

The Last Empress by Anchee Min
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's review
Jun 14, 11

Read from May 22 to June 14, 2011

I didn't think much of this, and in retrospect wish I had not bothered. I read Orchid, which I thought was weak, but then happened to visit the Forbidden City, and happened onto the Empress's lodgings there, so thought this would be a good way to get an update on the historical period. Overall this was ponderous - while clearly based on letters and writings, it had little life of its own. In some cases more background would have brought the text to life (e.g., a better explanation of the civil service exam). The sweeping generalities were not useful - for instance, she decides that Emperor Tung Chih should not be exposed to western education, then immediately says that this was one of her greatest mistakes ever - hard to believe, in that he did not live much longer. I will look for a history of the era to better understand what was going on, but this is too piecemeal to follow coherently.
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Cecily The Forbidden City is wonderful, and I find fiction like this can enhance and be enhanced by the place, but I don't really look to it for facts, and if I got them, I might doubt the authenticity anyway.

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