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The Last Empress


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About the Author

Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in 1957. At seventeen she was sent to a labor collective, where a talent scout for Madame Mao's Shanghai Film Studio recruited her to work as a movie actress. She came to the United States in 1984 with the help of actress Joan Chen. Her memoir, Red Azalea, was named one of the New York Times Notable Books of 1994 and was an international bestseller, with rights sold in twenty countries. Her novels Becoming Madame Mao and Empress Orchid were published to critical acclaim and were national bestsellers. Her two other novels, Katherine and Wild Ginger, were published to wonderful reviews and impressive foreign sales.


Three years after the publication of Min's best-selling Empress Orchid comes the sequel to the life of Lady Yehonala, a.k.a. the Dowager Empress, or the last empress of China. Min picks up Orchid's story from the time of her mother's death and takes readers through the empress's own death in 1908. Departing from the stereotype of Orchid as the "dragon lady" empress, Min uses first-person narration to portray her as a caring mother to Emperor Tung Chih and her nephew, Emperor Guang-hsu. The softness of Orchid's persona is revealed in her relations with her eunuchs, An-te-hai and Li-Lien-ying, while her strength is played out in the politics of the period and in her ability to survive the hardships of the Boxer Rebellion. As seen in the author's previous works (e.g., Becoming Madame Mao), Min consistently blends meticulous historical research with firsthand knowledge of Chinese culture and the female perspective to bring to readers a unique look at women in Chinese history. Essential for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/06.]-Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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