Fiction Anchee Min THE LAST EMPRESS: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780747578505

THE LAST EMPRESS: A Novel

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9780747578505: THE LAST EMPRESS: A Novel

At the end of the nineteenth century China is rocked by humiliating foreign attacks and local rebellions. The only constant is the power wielded by one woman: the resilient, ever-resourceful Tzu Hsi, also known as Empress Orchid. Moving from the intimacy of the concubine quarters into the spotlight of the world stage, Orchid makes a dramatic metamorphosis from a strong-willed young woman to a wise political leader, who must not only face the perilous condition of her fading empire but also a series of devastating personal losses. Yearning to step aside yet growing constantly into her role, only she can hold the nation's rival factions together. In this sequel to the bestselling novel Empress Orchid, Anchee Min brings to life one of the most important figures in Chinese history, a very human leader who assumes power reluctantly, and who sacrifices all she has to protect both those she loves and her doomed empire.

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Review:

Power is a here-today, gone-tomorrow concept in Chinese history, especially for women. In her previous novel, Empress Orchid, Anchee Min covered the first part of the life of Tzu Hsi, or Empress Orchid. Now, in The Last Empress, the empress is a widow, mother of the only male heir of the now-deceased emperor, and in a formidable position. Still, she must contend with palace intrigue on all fronts; even her eunuchs are bribed. She must put up with the smiling faces of men and women who mean her great harm, and, worst of all, her son takes up with prostitutes and dies of veneral disease. She adopts her nephew to be emperor, treats him like a son, and despairs of his weakness. Constant deceit is not the only difficulty which must be faced: incursions of foreigners and domestic rebellion are also part of this violent period at the end of the 19th century. There is the love-hate relationship with the Japanese, the Boxer Rebellion, and widespread mistrust of Western foreigners. Yet Empress Orchid believes that they must appease these factions in order to preserve the dynasty and the throne. All these problems converge to bring the Ch'ing Dynasty to its eventual demise.

A disclaimer: do not read The Last Empress as straight historical fact. Anchee Min makes no bones about the fact that her writing is meant to "rehabilitate" crucial female figures in Chinese history. Whichever account of Tzu Hsi is correct, the historical tradition that she was an overbearing harridan, selfish, greedy, and bloodthirsty or Min's portrayal of her as a loving mother, trying to protect her country and longing to step down but prevented from doing so by her wishy-washy son, The Last Empress is an endlessly interesting look at palace life, that hermetically sealed world that once existed in China. --Valerie Ryan

About the Author:

Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in 1957. At seventeen she was sent to a labour collective, where a talent scout for Madame Mao's Shanghai Film Studio recruited her to work as a movie actress. She moved to the United States in 1984. Her memoir, Red Azalea, was an international bestseller with rights sold in twenty countries. Her novels, Becoming Madame Mao, Katherine, Wild Ginger and Empress Orchid were published to wonderful reviews and impressive foreign sales.

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