Title: Imperial woman
Author: Pearl S. Buck
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication Date: May 21, 2013 (orig 1956)
How I got it: NetGalley
First published in 1956, Imperial Woman is the historically fictionalized account of Tzu Hsi, the last Empress of China. Born of low caste in the city Orchidloves her cousin Jung Lu, but she must leave her childhood home and go to the palace. Discarding her childhood name, Orchid becomes Yehonala and is chosen by the Son of Heaven as a concubine. She sets herself apart and becomes the emperor's favorite. She is waited on by multiple servants, however she misses her one true love. She calls Jung Lu to her chambers and the two engage in a one night affair. Later Yehonala bears a son and she becomes the Empress Mother. She realizes that she must know her son's foes & requests a teacher to give her the empire's history. She is enraged at the pillaging and conquering that has occured for years by Russians & English. The emperor's opium additcition has allowed his concils to make decisions for the Dragon Throne. Now rebels, led by a man named Hung, who calls himself the Chinese Christ, wishes to restore the dynasty of Ming.
Set in multiple palaces and full of plots to thwart succession, Imperial Woman is action packed with schemes at every turn. Who else knows the young heir's paternity? Will The Three steal the throne? Who has stolen the young heir? how will she maintain control of the dynasty even when there are changes to who sits on the throne?
Pearl S. Buck gives an extremely thorough account of Tzu Hsi's rise to power. I would have loved to have found this book in high school when I hated history. I read The Good Earth but this would have affected me more. I would have much rather done a report on the last Empress of China than Napolean or a King Louis. I love that there is a powerful woman in history that can be referenced for more than her ability to breed. She brings forth an heir but she is intelligent and cunning.
The story was exhausting. As in, Tzu Hsi is a working mother. yes she has the modern equivelent of nannies, housekeepers and cooks but she is running a dynasty and raising an heir to the throne. She is sharp tongued but soft hearted, ruthless and tender, she is an everywoman but so much more, she is The Imperial Woman.
Upon doing a little research on the novel I found that scholars find Tzu Hsi's ascension representative of "China's transition from the ancient to the modern way." Pretty impressive (empressive?)!
Addtional / Related Reading:
Anchee Min wrote also wrote a novel about Tzu Hsi called Empress Orchid