Thursday, 5 July 2012
Book Review: The Last Empress - Anchee Min
Moving from the intimacy of the concubine quarters into the spotlight of the world stage, Orchid makes a dramatic metamorphosis from a string-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 nations's rival factions together.
Review - I find Chinese history fascinating and realise that I have quite an interest. I fell in love with Jung Chang's Wild Swans when I read the book a few years ago. The Last Empress has reinforced my interest and appetite to read more. Typically, I found this book and picked it up to read to find that it follows on from Empress Orchid which I have not read yet. I was lucky enough to come across the first instalment in a charity shop this week. My reviews of this series will not be in order.
I found the history very interesting, learning about the Forbidden City and its protocols. Of course, from watching films such as The Last Emperor, we know that the very young are given this very high profile position and someone has to guide or 'pull the strings'. In this case Empress Orchid, who has a very difficult role following the death of her husband Emperor Hsien Feng in guiding their son Tung Chih on the throne. She has competition from her late husband's senior wife Nuharoo as an advisor and the relationship is fraught with difficulty. This Empress guides in the way she knows best, but it is not easy seeing her son being lead down the road to ruin by his cousin, her husband's brother Prince Kung's son. Another Emperor is named, again from an early age, this time the son of Orchid's sick sister Rong. Although Emperor Guang-hsu is more willing to take on his role he is still troubled by his responsibility and decision making. The Empress has to guide as best she can taking into account her enemies and her long-trusted friends and advisors. A very good and interesting read combining fact with fiction. 5*