Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

I was recommended this book whilst reading 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. It was also recommended on Richard and Judy back in March.

Empress Orchid is the story of a woman, whose bloodline is noble enough to allow her to apply to be one of the emperor's wives but lives in poverty. The book follows her through her early life, through her application, her choosing and her subsequent life in the Forbidden City. All this is against the backdrop of China's increasing woes at the hands of the British, French and Russians in the late 19th century. Can Orchid survive the feuding between the concubines, desperate to conceive an heir, political intrigues and the guns of the westerners?

This is a beautifully written book. The first time I picked it up I read the first 11 chapters without realising! Easy to read, a fascinating story, it's hard to pick any faults. It certainly is a must for anyone with any interest in Imperial China, particularly in the 19th century. Min describes every room, every costume, every ceremony with great care and you can feel the scenes unfolding around you. I've had real difficulty putting this book down and it's been such a shame to have to go back to work after I've finished my lunch! This is a beautiful, well crafted book.

5 stars