powerful and brilliantly conceived Booklist, ALA, Starred Review
[an] absolutely addictive book, a marvel of perfectly executed narrative The Baltimore Sun
An exotic tale filled with historical insight, richly transporting in its details, and compelling to the end.
O, The Oprah Magazine
fascinating reading The San Francisco Chronicle
While the historical research impresses, Min's prose brings immediacy to the period. (Critic's Choice) People Magazine
nervously riveting and oddly beautiful. The reader...can end up gasping for breath.
The Star Tribune
renders a beautiful description of a world where ritual is elaborately detailed The Denver Post
keeps you riveted with heart-wrenching scenes of desperate failure and a sensuality that rises off its heated pages.
a stirring, exotic novel that is a treat for the senses and intellect alike.
Los Angeles Times
Readers who appreciate well-crafted fiction will know to applaud Min's talent and exceptional work.
An absorbing companion piece to her novel, Becoming Madame Mao (2000), Anchee Min's Empress Orchid is also based on the life of a powerful but frequently denigrated female leader.
She's been written about before, this empress. In 1956 Pearl Buck gave us "Imperial Woman," a romanticized look at the woman who was "in youth a beautiful concubine, in middle life a brilliant strategist, in old age a goddess." The characters in Imperial Woman all talk Buck-speak, and why shouldn't they? ("Am I an infant that I play with toy animals?" The boy emperor expostulates at one point, "How dare you, Li Lien-Yang, defy your sovereign? I will have you sliced for this! Send me here my guardsmen!") But Anchee Min, raised in China, sent to the countryside during the revolution and writing here in English, takes a much less florid view. These are real people she writes about, and the crumbling of a world that -- though, God knows, strange to us -- was all too real to the people who lived in it. … Carolyn See
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. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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 Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Chinese-born Min's usual meticulous attention to local color (Wild Ginger, 2002, etc.) puts a brake on what should be a riveting tale-the ascent to power of China's last Empress-in a court where beheadings are as frequent as concubines are numerous. Min has done her research, and, unfortunately, it shows. The many and vivid details of court life-custom, costume and culture of late 1800s China-undercut her efforts to give a more balanced portrait of a woman who has often been vilified for her role in the decline of Chinese power. Narrated by the Empress, called Orchid because of her beauty, the story begins as Orchid, a member of an aristocratic clan related to the ruling Manchus, accompanies her family to Beijing to bury her recently deceased father. As the family faces poverty and starvation in Beijing, the 17-year-old Orchid learns of an Imperial decree announcing that the young Emperor Hsien Feng is looking for future mates who, to preserve the purity of the Imperial blood, must be Manchu. Miraculously, Orchid is chosen. Her family receives money, and she receives valuable gifts, lives in splendor in the Forbidden City, and has countless servants. But the life is stifling-protocol is all, jealousy commonplace, few can be trusted-and Orchid realizes that the only way to obtain a more secure life is to bed the Emperor and bear him an heir. Which, with some scheming, she manages to do, but China in the early 1860s is beset with problems. The European powers are seizing the country's territory, selling opium, and insisting on reparations from the Emperor. Meantime, the Imperial court is divided, the Emperor is weak both in judgment and health, and Orchid fears her son may not succeed hisfather. When the Emperor does die, her five-year-old son, although he's named heir, is too young to rule, and Orchid must ensure that both of them stay alive as rivals plot and treachery is everywhere. Evocative, but underpowered in simple narrative. Film rights to Oliver Stone; author tour. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra/Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency