Saturday, July 31, 2010

Empress Orchid

by Anchee Min


The story is told from a person view of the last Empress in the Chinese history. The language is a bit simple for a fictional autobiography. Caution in recommendation is suggested for young readers though.

The premise of the story is how a woman who came from a very unlikely background reached high status in life after overcoming difficulties after difficulties. Sounds familiar? I thought so after reading the blurb on the back, which reminds me of the Memoirs of a Geisha. I was at the Borders when I read a few pages and thought the book is interesting enough. To my disappointment the book prove to fall a bit short of my expectation.

The story starts by telling how Orchid's father died and how the family was thrown into hardship. The beginning was told realistically with stark details such as "our family was not poor but I knew that my neighbour ate worms for breakfast". The story continues but after a while I sensed something amiss. I was expecting to read a book that is similar to Memoirs of a Geisha but that is where the difference is. Although the book has similar storyline, this story lacks the metaphors that is widely used in the Memoirs of a Geisha. It is told in somewhat a direct way. The writer did try at parts of the story but it doesn't seem so smooth.

Much part of the story is about how Orchid longs for the Emperor affection and how the whole kingdom bows to the Sun of the Son, another name for the ruler of China. These depiction of Orchid and how the people behave quite puzzled me as they seem to think that the Emperor was no mere mortal being. I agree and respect that is their culture and certain scene in the book reminds me of what used to be told about our own monarchy in the past. However the part where Orchid tells her pain of being ignored by her husband icks me, but perhaps that is the nature of a woman.

The story then picks up itself at the last quarter where Hsien Feng, the Emperor, died hence leaving Orchid to fend herself and her son from the greedy advisers and danger. This part of the story tells the cunningness of Orchid and her will to protect themselves. However just as the action and conspiracy began to thicken, the book deviate into telling the feeling of the widowed Orchid for a general. The book suddenly ends there, with a conclusion that the general loves her too, and a hint that they somehow continue their affair secretly.

So the book language is a bit lacking in its beauty but I guess the writer did try her best to reconstruct history into a novel without adding too much. It is said at the end that the characters are all real but if you have any intention of learning the history of China seriously, I don't think a novel would be a good place to start. All in all I am a bit disappointed with this book and hard to recommend this to anyone. If you want a suggestion, you should already know what my answer would be. It's plastered all over this post. ;)

No comments: