The Last Empress

Anchee Min, Author . Houghton Mifflin $25 (308p) ISBN 978-0-618-53146-2

Min's Empress Orchid tracked the concubine Orchid's path to becoming Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi; this revisionist look at her long years behind her son Tung Chih's throne (1863–1908) won't disappoint Orchid's fans. Recounted through Tzu Hsi's first-person, the early chapters encompass her trials as a young "widow," as co-regent with the late emperor's wife and as a mother. An engaging domestic drama gives way to pedestrian political history; Tzu Hsi lectures like a popular historian on palace intrigue, military coups, the Boxer Rebellion and conflicts with Russia, France and Japan. Though tears flow, there is little passion (save Tzu Hsi's erotic but chaste longing for Yung Lu, commander of the emperor's troops). Min's empress adopts a notably modern psychologizing tone ("How much was Guang-hsu affected when he was wrenched from the family nest?"), earthy language ("You are the most wretched fucking demon I know!") and notes of historical prescience (including what "future critics" will say). Min attacks the popular conception of Tzu Hsi as a corrupt, ruthless, power-hungry assassin, but the results read less like a novel than a didactic memoir. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 01/01/2007
Release date: 03/01/2007
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4498-9997-4
Paperback - 308 pages - 978-0-547-05370-7
Compact Disc - 13 pages - 978-1-4281-4352-4
Hardcover - 308 pages - 978-0-7475-7850-5
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-547-34690-8
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!