Roughly the equivalent to the early years of Anne Boleyn--the Eastern version. Or possibly Evita. Empress Orchid is a fast paced yet delicate novel detailing the unlikely rise of an impoverished but decently pedigreed remote governor's daughter to become one of the seven Imperial wives of the last real emperor of China, circa 1861. The book offers an amazingly detailed look at what life was like in the Forbidden City, is impeccably researched and leaves one wondering what one would do when faced with the same challenges. I immediately ordered its sequel, The Last Empress, as I had to know how the story ends.
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year in 2004, this book has rich details and colorful historical background. It reminded me of a fairy tale. This story is of China's last empress with a solid view into the Forbidden City. Elle calls it a "sexually charged eye-opening portrayal of the Chinese empire ..... sensuality that rises off its heated pages."
Absorbing, rich in detail. The reader is drawn into the inner sanctums of life in the The Forbidden City, as told through the eyes of Orchid, the fourth concubine of the last Emperor of China and the mother of the last Manchu Emperor (mid to late 1800s). Fascinating story, well told.
Although a novel, it offers wonderful insight into the young woman who became the last Empress of China and ruled China through the Boxer rebellion. I can't wait for a sequel to read about what comes next!
Very entertaining story of a girl from the chinese countryside who is chosen to be a concubine of the emperor. The excess and danger of life in the forbidden city is fascinating, as is Orchid's rise as the emperor's favorite wife, and later, the unofficial ruler who helps continue the dynasty. I can't wait to read more books by this author!
Historical novel about the early life of the last empress of China -- the infamous Dowager Empress, whom history has named a manipulative monster. While the character of Orchid is presented sympathetically here, and the detail of daily life in China's Imperial Court is fascinating, the story itself seems overlong. And it only goes through the early days of Orchid's regency.
A masterful historical novel, portraying brutal and sexually charged political turmoil in the mid 19th century Forbidden City. Orchid is based on the true historical figure, Tzu Hsi, who was China's longest reigning woman ruler and last empress. A rich novel, full of articulately crafted details, and searing descriptions which haunt long after the last page is turned.
The despair and tragedy that gives birth to this story of a young girl destined for a greater purpose spoke to my heart. This is a novel that will stay with you for a long time. As I read, I saw the scenes of the china countryside, the Forbidden City, and the ornamental characters whose lives make up the intricate tapestry weaving through all. One cannot help but imagine the novel being set to film!
After reading the story and researching more of the author, Anchee Min, I find that she has her own compelling story, and was once required under the social dictatorship of China, to perform as a movie actress in propaganda films. This perhaps, has inspired a cinematic quality to the telling of story, but more than that, a wisdom that can see the truth behind pomp and tradition, honoring a culture and people that are now mostly lost.
Empress Orchid takes the reader into the Forbidden City of China in the last days of it's ruling class. It follow's the life of a young country girl who becomes first a concubine to the Emperor then goes on to produce his only son, and will eventually become China's last ruling empress. While reading the book the reader will go through many heartbreaks. triumphs, and suspenseful moments with Orchid that make the book hard to put down.
In the spirit of books like Memoirs of a Geisha, or Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Empress Orchid will transport the reader into a completely different time and culture, and provide an escape from everyday reality. While there are references to what will happen to some characters early on in the book, the characters are not one dimensional, and it is easy to identify with them even a hundred and fifty plus years later, this is not a book that you'll finish and put on a book shelf and forget.
I really enjoyed reading this book and think you will too. The story is engrossing and I found myself not able to put this one down. At times very sad, it's a beautiful story of ancient tradition and honor, as well as deceit and integrity. I highly recommend this one!
What was so fascinating about this story is the way the history was woven into the very personal lives of the characters. This really explains Chinese culture in a vivid and sometimes tragic tapestry. Unforgettable!!
This is the fictionally written tale of Empress Orchid based on the real Empress Orchid Tsu Hsi, who ruled for forty-six years. It is an unforgettable tale of struggle both internally and externally. The circumstances of her life forced her to share a husband and son with the royal court and an entire country. Fascinating book!
When the description for this book claimed it was about Orchid's rise to power it wasn't kidding. It doesn't fall into the trap of many Asian concubine novels and focus on the make-up and clothes and cattiness of fellow concubines to win the affections of whatever man happens to be in charge. The book contains some of that but certainly it's shorter than most. The story is based on the life of a real woman who ascended to power to become China's last empress. As a result, I became familiar with a great deal of Chinese and Manchu court etiquette and hierarchies of power within that. This book was researched thoroughly. I was surprised to learn that Manchu women don't bind their feet and that it's an exclusively Chinese practice.
I enjoyed the character of Orchid because despite her protests to the contrary, she seemed extremely ambitious, almost to a fault. However, the author gave her a softer side and she wasn't completely inhuman and cruel. She was aggressive about fighting for justice and above all, China. I'll read more by this author.
Interesting, still reads like a westerner's version of China, it doesn't seem inscrutible enough. Anyway, there's a lot about intrigue within the court, not much about life outside (I guess that might have been the point), there is a sequel that covers her years as empress.
This is a fascinating look into Imperial China. Orchid (Tzu His) was born in 1835 to a father who was a regional governor and passed away when she was 17. Thrust into poverty she is selected to become one of the Emperor's many concubines. Producing the first male heir, she experiences the attention of the Emperor, the rivalry among his wives, the politics of the Imperial court, loyalty, betrayal, murder, slavery and absolute loneliness. When the emperor dies when his son is five, she must fight to maintain her position and secure his future. Stunning descriptions of the surroundings, palace life and the isolation of royal life.
Empress Orchid sweeps readers into the heart of the Forbidden City to tell the fascinating story of a young concubine who becomes China's last empress. Min introduces the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid, and weaves an epic of a country girl who seized power through seduction, murder, and endless intrigue.
Orchid Yehonala is a 17 year old forced to support her impoverished family after her father died. Her only saving grace - she is of Manchu blood and before he died, her father was above the rank of Blue Bannerman. Forced into a corner by an uncle who provides the roof over their heads but now wants Orchid to marry his disabled son, she comes across an edict that every Manchu girl between 13-17 must present herself among the women whom the Emperor will choose from as his wives and concubines.
Only a son of the Manchu Emperor and a Manchu woman can occupy the Emperors throne and hence the Chinese Emperor has a one-time ceremony in which he chooses 7 wives (1 main Empress, 6 minor wives) and as many concubines as he desires.
Orchid is fortunate to be chosen as an Imperial Consort of the 4th rank, who then becomes the mother of Emperor Hsien Feng's only son, thus raising her status to Empress Tzu Hsi.
Empress Tzu Hsi has been widely reviled in history, mostly due to the writings of biased European journalists who found themselves in China during the tumultuous changes of the 20th century. Sir Edmund Backhouse was incredibly vicious and claimed to have been extremely close to the Empress.In 1974, he was revealed to be a counterfeiter who had never even entered the Forbidden City. But the damage in the foreign press and at Oxford had already been done with multiple repercussions.
Anchee Min in her 2 books about Orchid Yehonala tries to set the record straight and put the events of those years in perspective from the Empresses' perspective, although, of course, much of the personal feelings of Empress Orchid expressed in the book are purely speculative.
Empress Orchid is a gripping tale, especially as it is mostly factual and hence a fascinating introduction into the Imperial Chinese court and its functioning within the Forbidden City.
Everything is governed by rules and rituals. Eunuchs wield enormous power. The Manchu's (5 million population) rule the roost in court, even though they seem to have lost touch with reality. The Chinese Han (395 million population) are more in touch with ground reality and have experienced the harsh truths of the world outside the Forbidden City, but are ignored within the court, in a kind of Apartheid.
The Emperors wives and consorts conspire to gain the Emperors attention and to sustain it once gained. But those who take up too much of his time and interest are punished for that by the Grand Empress (Queen Mother)
Empress Orchid, deals with Orchids early troubles, before she is chosen as an imperial consort. Once chosen, it delves into the reality of the lonely nights she spends while trying desperately to get the Emperor to choose her for the night, how her intelligence and forthrightness evokes a kind of trust, and her difficult pregnancy before she becomes the mother of his only son.
Until this point, the novel talks mostly about her...her feelings, her attempts, her fears and hopes for herself. Once she becomes the mother of a child - Guang Hsu, it is then that she begins to look at the larger picture. She starts to help the Emperor with court documents and taking an interest in International affairs given the threats at their doorstep, and her anxiety about the China her son will inherit.
However as the foreign invasions continue, the Emperor and his family are forced to abdicate to Jehol where Emperor Hsien Feng succumbs to his illnesses of body and spirit. As Guang Hsu is very young at the time of his passing, a powerful court official Su Shun tries a coup. But Empress Orchid uses every tactic she knows and presses every contact she knows, to prevent this from happenning and places Guang Hsu on the throne as Emperor Tung Chih with herself and Chief Empress Nuharoo as regents.
The book ends with the 5 year old Emperor Tung Chih and his court returning to the Forbidden City and the proper burial ceremonies for Emperor Hsien Feng who died when barely 30 years old.
It was a nice change to read Chinese History from this perspective. There is always more than one side to a story and it is important that a tale like this is told and read and acknowledged. It gives insight and perspective into future actions and reactions.
I can't wait to start The Last Empress which deals with the 2nd part of Empress Orchid's life and one in which she takes a prominent political role.
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min is the story of a girl who rises from poverty to the role of Empress Dowager of China. Told as a first person narrative, the book submerges the reader into her world. As such, the story appears as viewed through the lens of a camera - Orchid's eyes. What is beyond the frame - beyond her perspective - remains beyond the reader. History, biography, and all the makings of a soap opera surround Orchid and come together in an entertaining story.
Read my complete review at: http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2016/02/empress-orchid.html