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Empress Orchid
Anchee Min
Adult Fiction MIN

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Talk about story arc: poor girl from rural China auditions for a job as royal concubine, winds up as emperor's wife number four, gives birth to the "last Emperor," rules China as regent for 46 years. The fascinating, implausible life of Tsu Hsi, or "Orchid," was reviled by the revolutionary Chinese, but here it receives a sympathetic treatment from Min (Red Azalea; Becoming Madame Mao), who once again brilliantly lifts the public mask of a celebrated woman to reveal a contradictory character. Sexually assertive, intellectually ambitious, socially striving, Min's Orchid is also "isolated, tense, and in some vague but very real way, dissatisfied." Even after giving birth to the emperor's only son, Orchid feels trapped by the stultifying imperial rituals and persecuted by the other residents of the Forbidden City: six other royal wives, 3,000 invisible concubines and 2,000 scheming eunuchs. In addition to these powerful distractions, she has to discipline her overindulged son, outmaneuver the ruthless politician Su Shun (who wants her buried alive when the emperor dies) and advise the ailing emperor how to fend off both the Boxers and the Western "barbarians." Min, herself a survivor of China's Cultural Revolution, has done a prodigious amount of on-site research to capture the glorious, hopeless last days of the Ching dynasty. At times her writing is textbook-flat, and she sometimes loses track of her teeming cast of characters (for example, Orchid's dangerous mother-in-law and mentally ill sister). But readers will be enthralled by the gorgeously woven cultural tapestry and the psychologically astute portrait of the empress a talented girl from the provinces who married (way) up. (Feb. 3) Forecast: Empress Orchid does for 19th-century China what Becoming Madame Mao did for the People's Republic and stands a good chance of matching the latter's success. If it does, readers will clamor for Min's promised sequel (the novel ends when Orchid comes to power) and the film prospects (rights have been optioned by Oliver Stone imagine Bertolucci's The Last Emperor with a conspiracy twist) will look even better. Fourteen-city author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

The only thing wrong with this intriguing novel is the title-it should have been (and apparently was originally) called The Last Empress. In it, Min (Becoming Madame Mao) re-creates the life of the last empress of the Manchu dynasty, from her beginnings in a poor but honorable family to her becoming concubine to the emperor of China, to being designated his adviser and helpmate. Once chosen to be one of the emperor's seven main wives, Orchid, who takes the name Lady Yehonala, soon discovers that the supposedly privileged life inside Peking's Forbidden City is as fraught as her hardscrabble existence outside its walls. She must guard her prerogatives against the other wives and be wary of court intrigues that would discredit her. As she has shown before, Min has a talent for entering into the character of notorious Chinese women and presenting their lives in a sympathetic but judicious light. This imaginative work should be welcome in all public libraries with a taste for history and the exotic. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/03.]-Edward Cone, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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main characters Tzu Hsi
Shrewd; courageous; born into an aristocratic but impoverished family; became the last Empress of China; known as the Empress Orchid.

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