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Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
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I can't say exactly whether this book is a work of fiction or a biography. It tells the story of Ci Xi, China's Last Empress (the one who arranged the ascend of China's Last Emperor, Pu Yi) in her own voice. Ci Xi has always been portrayed as a ruthless, evil woman with insatiable thirst for power and, in this book, she's described as a simple and sensuous woman who wants the best for her husband, a mother who wants her son to have what's rightfully his, and a I-don't-know-what who wants the best for China.

The book starts off well: funny and engaging. I couldn't put it down. However to wards the end, it gets rather dishonest: this poor, uneducated girl has blossomed into a modern ruler who understands the need for foreign diplomacy and statesmanship (she authorized voting, for God's sake). OK, perhaps I'm not being fair here but the images toward the end of the book are closer to Hillary Clinton among books and state documents rather than Imperial China where the Emperor has the absolute power. All these are true accounts actually, it's just the portrayal that I think is exaggerated.

Unfortunately, the story ends when the son becomes the Emperor. The years following that, actually, are the most important ones which establishes her reputation as a powerful, ambitious, and intelligent Empress.

Writing style, it's nice and simple. Words and phrases flow well. Everything can be summarized in the following excerpt from Julia Lovell's review for the Guardian:

"Considering Anchee Min grew up in China and, according to her author biography, learned her English from Sesame Street, the language is generally pretty competent, and sometimes even engaging: bamboo rafts drift down a river "like a giant loose necklace". At other, less assured points, unfortunately, the tone swings queasily between fortune cookie wisdom ("A dead camel is bigger than a live horse"), Mills & Boon ("Take me," the empress gasps at Yung Lu when they find themselves alone together in the emperor's tomb) and the downright eccentric ("My body fermented like a steamed bun"). "

An easy read, for sure. Can get quite funny in the beginning. And the historical events, accurate or not, are quite harmless.

PS: expect a few erotically charged scenes in this book. Who says Asians are prudes?
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2005 – Finished Reading
July 29, 2007 – Shelved

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Sunita This is the story of the last Empress of China. I have no idea of Chinese history or its dynastic ways. This story didn't do much for me except for all the description around the Forbidden City and the absolute boring ways of life in there.
I wasn't quite happy with the way it ended too.


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