Writer: Anchee Min
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (paperback edition 2005)
Gift from Essy
Seventeen-year-old Orchid came from a poor (albeit blue blood) family. To save her family from poverty, and avoid marrying her “retarded” cousin, Orchid decided to compete to be one of the Emperor’s wives.
She’s successfully chosen as a lower-ranking concubine and entered the Forbidden City. But beneath the majestic gardens and buildings, there were gossips, rumors, even murders. And so many enemies who wanted the same thing as Orchid: to bear the Emperor’s son and became the Emperor’s most favorite girl.
Orchid dived into the fierce competition, learned every trick to seduce the Emperor and even got to know the real politics- without first realizing that she would become China’s last Empress.
First I thought this book will be some kind of a boring historical fiction slash Asian literature. But it turned out that when you expect the least- you get more than you expected. Empress Orchid is a fantastic historical fiction, written in rich details, juicy plots and convincing characters that make you can’t help but to believe in them.
What I love the most about this book is its detail setting of the Forbidden City, from its architectural wonders to the unique inhabitants and culture.
One of the most memorable scenes for me is this:
“I pictured the Grand Empress sitting on her chamber pot, attended by a roomful of maids. She must think that her shit is diamonds and her farts perfume. Does Her Majesty have rules about the size, shape, length, color and odor of stools?
All I want is to be able to shit by myself!”
The life of an Empress is not an easy one. And Anche Min could capture that sense with pretty much accuracy.
And the collapse of China in the hand of its last Emperor, how Orchid had tried to save her kingdom – the plots are flowing nicely without too many unnecessary details.
I can’t help but feel more and more amazed by the history of one of the oldest civilizations in our world. Thanks to Orchid and her amazing life.