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3.69  ·  Rating details ·  5,163 Ratings  ·  400 Reviews
A ravishing historical novel of one of China's most controversial historical figures: its first and only female emperor, Empress Wu, who emerged in the Tang Dynasty and ushered in a golden age.

In seventh–century China, during the great Tang dynasty, a young girl from the humble Wu clan entered the imperial gynaecium, which housed ten thousand concubines. Inside the Forbidd
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 2nd 2006 by Harper (first published 2003)
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A few reasons why I recommend this book:

-The tale of the one and only female emperor in the history of China.

-A Machiavellian heroine who is determined to create her own destiny, against all odds.

-The forbidden romance between a young crown prince and one of his royal father's widows.

-The gorgeous backdrop of the Tang Dynasty, when the imperial China was at her peak.

-Deadly power struggle within both the harem and the court.

-The complicated family saga of both the Royal Family and the Wu clan, t
Tea Jovanović
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Ova knjiga je bila najprodavaniji naslov Lagune 2006. godine, što mi je posebno drago (u smislu da mi je urednička procena bila dobra)... Ovo je knjiga za sve one koji vole dobar istorijski egzotični roman... i Kinu... I sve one koji su čitali knjigu "Šljivin cvet u vazi od zlata"... :)
I've a penchant for literature written with an eye on the grander scale of things. Most probably it comes with my preoccupation with critiquing the canon, albeit through far less flimsy bases than prose and universality and all that invisible-hand jazz. In return for paying attention to fields that are not required for the common range of English (history, politics, decolonization, gender dichotomy, all that fun stuff people like to pretend are subsidiary instead of the power generators of unque ...more
This book was lushly written, with a meticulous eye for detail, but it was little impersonal and distant for me. Although the twisted politics were interesting, I wasn't engaged at all with any of the characters. It was a bit like being underwater, hearing a conversation from another room.

There was actually far too much detail about certain ceremonies - I started thinking about the paraodic detail in The Princess Bride while I was reading - and not enough information on the people involved. I di
Thomas Alexander
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
There's a story behind my reading this book. I am, by habit a reader of 'genre fiction' which means stories about Spaceman Gort and the Flying Death Pygmies of Planet Bimbotron and things like that. At the Barnes and Noble I typically shop for books at, the Spaceman Gort section is crammed far into the back, covered in cobwebs, and filled with a droning voice that tells you how ashamed you should be for reading this drivel.

Perhaps I exaggerate.

On the way to Spaceman Gort and the lovely ladies of
Oct 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book took on a whole new take of Chinese History. It portrayed an important historical figure in a personal and never before seen way. Empress Wu was the first woman emperor to ever take the throne. It was traditionally carried on by heirs of the previous emperor, but during the Tang Dynasty, the emperor lacked the capability to successfully control the nation without the help of Wu Ze Tian (the empress). And when the emperor passes away, the only person that the nation could be entrusted t ...more
My carriage was already traveling through eternity. I was tiny, alone, and naked. I was moving toward, a god, and an empire.

There’s something deeply compelling about someone’s rise from obscurity to power, be they evil or good, especially if the obscurity is great and the power is immense. When that rise to power involves a woman who raises herself to a position no woman was ever meant to hold, well, count me in.

This is a fictionalized account of a piece of, apparently often neglected, Chinese
Heyrebekah Alm
Aug 16, 2010 rated it did not like it
What an awful book! I am so disappointed, because I read The Girl Who Played Go a few years ago and thought that was fantastic.

The writing in this book is just far too lush and overwrought. It feels like the author put so much effort into crafting each dramatic sentence that she forgot to put in any kind of plot or sympathetic characters. Granted, the main character was a pretty horrific person in her lifetime, so Shan Sa didn't have much to work with there as far as making her likeable. But the
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it
It was a good book. I don't feel much moved but I always enjoy anything with strong female characters.
Katherine 黄爱芬
Setelah membaca buku ini sampai selesai, memang isi buku ini myaris mirip dengan buku Putri Langit karangan Nigel Cawthorne, walau ada perbedaan2 sedikit seperti berikut ini:
- Cahaya Nirwana atau calon Wu Zetian ini dalam buku ini dikatakan diperawani oleh sang Putra Mahkota, tp menurut sumber2 lain yg kubaca, beliau diperawani oleh Kaisar Tang Tai Zong sebagaimana peringkatnya sebagai Selir tingkat Lima. Agak mustahil klo beliau diperawani oleh Putra Mahkota mengingat umur Putra Mahkota jg lebi
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Aku adalah peony merah merona, pohon berayun, angin berdesir ...

Jujur, saya harus membuka wikipedia untuk mengetahui, sejenis apakah peony itu? Ternyata, akhirnya bertemu makna. Peony adalah sejenis bunga yang sering digunakan oleh bangsa Tiongkok untuk pengobatan. Juga sering menjadi simbol pada seni ornamen. Terbata-bata, saya mencoba mencari benang merah yang menghubungkan antara peony merah merona dengan pribadi Maharani Wu, Sang Kaisar Suci Roda Emas Cahaya Nirwana.
Cahaya Nirwana, lahir da
Bryn Hammond
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: imagined-fiction
The ‘great man theory’ of history is out of fashion, and I don’t know how often historical fiction, either, sets out to portray greatness – whatever that is – in the political sphere. In this book I found myself convinced I was in the presence of greatness, a person I want to call great, and to add to that uncommon experience, she’s a woman.

If any of that sounds easy, I don’t think it is. At a point in this book it dawned upon me that in historical fiction, I haven’t met a great woman before –
Jun 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
There's a story behind my reading this book. I am, by habit a reader of 'genre fiction' which means stories about Spaceman Gort and the Flying Death Pygmies of Planet Bimbotron and things like that. At the Barnes and Noble I typically shop for books at, the Spaceman Gort section is crammed far into the back, covered in cobwebs, and filled with a droning voice that tells you how ashamed you should be for reading this drivel.

Perhaps I exaggerate.

On the way to Spaceman Gort and the lovely ladies o
Stef Rozitis
This was an enigmatic and original piece of work, allowing a historical figure, the Empress Wu to tell her own story, all through her own perspective, including her birth, childhood the many twists and reversals of her climb to power, the bitter clinging to that power and even what happens after her death.

About the first half of the book is about her dogged determination to thrive against all the odds- as a cast down nobody sent to the provinces to live with unsympathetic relatives, she has rice
Alexa Ayana

Untuk pembaca baru buku-buku HF memang agak mengintimidasi. Tapi setelah mencoba membaca beberapa, bagiku ini adalah salah satu cara untuk membaca buku pelajaran sejarah dengan cara yang fun dan ringan.

Empress Wu adalah satu-satunya Kaisar Wanita di China yang memerintah sejak dinasti Tang. Karena ini pertama kalinya aku membaca tentang riwayat hidup beliau, aku tidak bisa menyebutkan sampai sejauh mana keakuratan data di buku ini. Berbeda dengan buku novel biasa atau sodara muda genre ini (his
Sharon L
Dec 21, 2012 rated it liked it
i learned a lot reading this book. it was fascinating in my foreign eyes.

but empress Wu was a scary character. you can almost say that no matter how.much she had, she always wanted more, and that's dangerous.

although being historically interesting,the book was also full of drama and at times drag on. too long. and none of the chatacters was actually likable.

Wu was amazing- power driven, smart, calculative, and once in a while showing emotions- emotions that were fake in my eyes. she was a str
Aug 17, 2009 rated it it was ok
I was unimpressed by this novel. The narrator's voice seemed very authentic, as though she actually wrote it back in AD 680, but unfortunately that meant that it was exceedingly dry, mostly consisting of lists of what was in her many parades, how much gold she used building monuments, who she decided to have exiled or beheaded, etc. The most sexy parts (where characters get seduced and so forth) was sullied by the fact that the narrator seemed to have no emotions.

Actually, the lack of emotion wa
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: actual-favorites
Coming soon...
Lyubina Yordanova
„Императрицата” е изключителен исторически роман за един безпрецедентен миг. Миг, който започва преди 1300 години в утробата на една майка, където расте единствената жена в историята на Китай, която ще носи титлата „император“, останала известна в аналите като У Дзътиен. Изминавайки дълъг и тежък път до престола, тя съумява да издигне Поднебесната до неподозирани висини във времена, когато жените не са били смятани за нещо повече от предмети.

Всеки опит да се разкаже книгата би дал само бледа пре
I was very excited to see that someone had written a novel about Empress Wu, 武则天 my favourite Chinese historical figure. Empress Wu is the only woman to reign China as an Emperor ruling from 690-705AD as head of her own dynasty. It is my hope to be able to write a popular history book about Wu Zetian. Last year I wrote a very long essay about her use of religion in legitimising her rule and I was thrilled to see that all these events were mentioned in this novel! This book was only the fourth bo ...more
Jan 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
"Abundance" in 7th Century China. The rigid palace protocol and machinations to gain power were virtually identical. Apparently the French peasants took a page from the Chinese book during the Reign of Terror, as parading heads on sticks was much in vogue during both eras. Other similarities include the outrageous hairstyles and over-the-top dressing. But the randy Bourbon kings had nothing on the emperors of China, who kept as many as 10,000 concubines at one time!

In sum, the underlying theme o
Dec 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in Chinese history
The author Shan Sa is a native Chinese woman. She wrote this book in French, and it was then translated into English (and other languages). What amazed me was the beauty of the language Sa used to describe the opulent scenes in an ancient Chinese palace in the 7th century A.D. The historical detail was amazing, including descriptions of life within the palace, rituals and beliefs, day to day life in ancient China, how commoners outside the palace survived, how the government was run, and so on. ...more
I enjoyed Empress because it plunged me into another world in which Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, narrates her life during the Tang dynasty. After the election results on Wednesday, I was in a state of shock; anxious and appalled, I couldn’t concentrate on reading a novel for days. When I finally picked up Empress on Saturday I was drawn into a far-away, detailed setting and was able to forget real life for a while, and for that I’m grateful.

I preferred the beginning of the book over
Judi Easley
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
To be rated/reviewed closer to this month's book club meeting

I had a very hard time getting through this book and even harder time settling on how to rate/review it. I am reluctant to give one star ratings for a few reasons...but...while I appreciated the author's ambition in telling the story of this controversial woman, and felt that the translation was extremely well-done, this was not the book for me. If I hadn't been the one who nominated it for my book club, I probably would have stopped r
Sherry H
Jan 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
Oh, dear lord, this was a boring book.

Because the subject is historically significant, I felt obligated to keep reading. What a chore that was. I skimmed, and still had to finally throw in the towel without finishing the last 50 pages or so.

The story of the Empress is told in the first person, from before her birth until, well, I don't really know how it ended, do I? But since she narrated her time in the womb, and her birth, I assume the book ends with her description of her death and funeral,
Michelle Merriman
When I bought this book years ago, I couldn't make it through the first chapter. I was young (...well, younger) and the abstract concept of womb memories wasn't something I necessarily felt capable of grasping. But I picked it up a long time later and I'm thankful I never got rid of it in my adolescent naivete because this book is a force, in language, in storytelling, in characters; it's a truly lush, decadent and engrossing piece of narrative. I am fascinated by any culture not closely related ...more
Apr 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian
I've noticed that most poets are not particularly good at writing novels (they are much better at crafting short stories). Perhaps this is why I found Shan Sa's book something of a surprise. The author's voice is highly distinct. The writing is poetic, but don't let this fool you. Although the passages are often lyrical, Shan Sa has shown an admirable attention to detail. I fully agree with one of the other Goodreads reviewers, who made a connection between Sa's skill as a painter and her writin ...more
J.S. Dunn
Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
A caveat for grammar snobs: throughout 300+ pages, the word ' capitol' is misspelled. As capital, which of course is something else entirely. You'd think Big Phat Publisher Harper would have caught that, especially given the fad of bashing small imprints and indie published books for any error large or small,

but noooo! The blooper repeats all the way to the end. There are a few other typos as well; missing words, and the like. Guess the race-to- the-bottom has spread to line editing at big publi
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Unable to Finish This Book 13 55 Apr 08, 2018 09:01AM  
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Shan Sa is a French author born in Beijing in 1972. The Girl Who Played Go was the first of her novels to be published outside of France. It won the Goncourt des Lycéens Prize in 2001 and earned critical acclaim worldwide. Her second novel to appear in English translation is "The Empress" (2006).

Shan Sa was born on October 26, 1972 in Beijing to a scholarly family . Her real name is Yan Ni Ni, the
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“The moon in all her immaculate purity hung in the sky, laughing at this world of dust. She congratulated me for my carefully considered maneuvers and invited me to share in her eternal solitude.” 72 likes
“Endless moons, an opaque universe, thunder, tornadoes, the quaking earth. Rare moments of peace; forehead up against my knees, arms around my head, I though, I listened, I longed not to exist. but life was there, a transparent pearl, a star revolving slowly on its own axis.” 65 likes
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