Review: The Last Empress [2006]

The Last EmpressAuthor: Anchee Min
Year: 2006 [1st]
Publisher: Mariner Books

About (goodreads):
The last decades of the nineteenth century were a violent period in China’s history, marked by humiliating foreign incursions and domestic rebellions and ending in the demise of the Ch’ing Dynasty. The only constant during this tumultuous time was the power wielded by one woman, the resilient, ever-resourceful Tsu Hsi — or Empress Orchid, as readers came to know her in Anchee Min’s critically acclaimed, best-selling novel covering her rise to power.

The Last Empress is the story of Orchid’s dramatic transition from a strong-willed, instinctive young woman to a wise and politically savvy leader who ruled China for more than four decades. In this concluding volume Min gives us a compelling, very human leader who assumed power reluctantly and sacrificed all to protect those she loved and an empire that was doomed to die.

I Say…

If you are a mother, sister, wife or daughter, you can’t resist loving the ruthless Tzu-hsi, because of Anchee Min’s take on her life as one of history’s toughest woman ever.

Although this book was written based on China’s historical account, I want to think the dialogue and drama really took place during the Qing dynasty. It simply carried me away. Empress Orchid, now Tzu-hsi, had more to bear compared to her agony of just longing to be the apple of the Emperor’s eye. In this final installment The Last Empress, she suffered, loss after loss while maintaining her composure… no matter how painful each decision may seem. She was misunderstood and ridiculed during her reign, when she should’ve gained empathy from the people who live outside the Forbidden City. After all, she is just a woman, with a family to bind together in one piece. This being her weakness, she tends to make the worst decisions. And these decisions lead to recurring history as she witness her husband, son and adopted son’s failure as worthy sons of heaven.

It’s like you’re holding a history book, while reading. The Last Empress tackled more of China’s issues and how it became part of the rich Asian history. A lot of names might ring a bell, if you remember your Asian History well enough.

Fact or fiction, I think a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

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Review: The Piano Teacher [2009]

Author: Janice Y.K.Lee
Year: 2009
Publisher: Penguin Books

About (goodreads):
The Piano TeacherIn the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, Janice Y.K. Lee’s debut novel is a tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong. In 1942, Englishman Will Truesdale falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong to work as a piano teacher and also begins a fateful affair. As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine, impossible choices emerge-between love and safety, courage and survival, the present, and above all, the past.

I Say…

This book got my head spinning. It has too many characters, all are interconnected and linked past to the present. Trudy motivated me to finish the book, because I want to find out what became of her.  I’ve grown to love every ounce of Trudy. Her bravery, her passion for life, her spontaneity… bearing a bad girl image is not always bad. If a survey is made, Trudy Liang will emerge as its favorite character. Claire is her exact opposite, timid and always wanting to escape. Her happiness was undefined from the beginning to end. The missing piece to complete the love triangle is Will Truesdale. He is my least favorite character. I don’t know why, but he could’ve done so much. He was scared all his life… depending on both Trudy and Claire to save him. It’s as if he’s doomed to live in misery.

The Piano Teacher doesn’t have a good sequence, and it drags the reader back and forth. One page you’re with Claire, the next page you’ll be back with Trudy. But as secrets started to unfold, they never ceased. Every paged turned is another secret unlocked. All the excitement got bottled up in the last quarter of the book. There was a point when I wanted to stop reading, not because I find the story getting way out of hand, but out of pity for people who are agonized by the war. War made humans heartless and selfish, but every ounce brave to survive.

Lastly, I’d like to comment on the grammar. I’m not very good in English as people think but the errors were quite easy to spot. I learned a lot, though.

Review: Empress Orchid [2004]

 

Empress OrchidAuthor: Anchee Min
Year: 2004
Publisher: Bloomsbury

About (goodreads):

The setting is China’s Forbidden City in the last days of its imperial glory, a vast complex of palaces and gardens run by thousands of eunuchs and encircled by a wall in the center of Peking. In this highly ordered place – tradition-bound, ruled by strict etiquette, rife with political and erotic tension – the Emperor, The Son of Heaven, performs two duties: he must rule the court and conceive an heir. To achieve the latter, tradition provides a stupendous hierarchy of hundreds of wives and concubines.

It is as a minor concubine that the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid as a girl, enters the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen.

It is not a good time to enter the city. The Ch’ing Dynasty in 1852 has lost its vitality, and the court has become an insular, xenophobic place. A few short decades earlier, China lost the Opium Wars, and it has done little since to strengthen its defenses or improve diplomatic ties. Instead, the inner circle has turned further inward, naively confident that its troubles are past and the glory of China will keep the “barbarians” – the outsiders – at bay.

Within the walls of the Forbidden City the consequences of a misstep are deadly. As one of hundreds of women vying for the attention of the Emperor, Orchid soon discovers that she must take matters into her own hands. After training herself in the art of pleasing a man, she bribes her way into the royal bedchamber and seduces the monarch. A grand love affair ensues; the Emperor is a troubled man, but their love is passionate and genuine. Orchid has the great good fortune to bear him a son. Elevated to the rank of Empress, she still must struggle to maintain her position and the right to raise her own child. With the death of the Emperor comes a palace coup that ultimately thrusts Orchid into power, although only as regent until her son’s maturity. Now she must rule China as its walls tumble around her, and she alone seems capable of holding the country together.

I Say…

Orchid’s journey to success is too overwhelming, she has indeed proven herself worthy to be called an Empress. Her wit and unconditional love became her strength to thwart China from falling apart that easy. The primary wife, Empress Nuharoo is also an admirable woman although you might hate her. She gave Empress Orchid enough challenge that broke her and made her as well. Another favorite character of mine is the faithful eunuch An-te-hai. He is such a wise man. Orchid will never be Empress Orchid without him.

I don’t know if the efforts to finish the book as soon as I can contributed to my confusion, or is it just my lack of knowledge about China’s history. Or was my imagination too limited? Somewhere in the later chapters, was Empress Yehonala feverish, or was she making love to someone else other than the Emperor? See.. the book is too poetic and it’s quite unavoidable for me to lose some sense. But each detail is carefully defined and described for one’s imagination to digest… every scent, shape and color detailed to perfection. The almost perfect union of fact and fiction made it hard to tell which is which. Again, a woman in love unconditionally is more powerful than a man who calls himself the “Son of Heaven”.

Review: Peony In Love

Author: Lisa See
Year: 2007
Publisher: Random House Inc.

Peony_in_LoveFrom WorldCat:

In the garden of the Chen Family Villa, a small theatrical troupe is performing scenes from a famed opera rumored to cause love sickness and even death. Peony attends the production, watching from behind a screen, but catches sight of a handsome man and begins a journey of love and sorrow.

I Say…

A very nicely written piece of literature. I was hesitant at first to read the book, but when I did, I stayed awake plenty hours way past my bedtime. I’ve always thought that lovesickness is just an overly used word for people who doesn’t understand love at all. A word for dreamers, and those who hold on so dearly to unrequited love… not too disturbing if you’d ask me. I have no idea, to some it can be something serious and alarming in nature. There is no better cure for lovesickness than being loved in return.

I didn’t grow up to all the Chinese beliefs and customs although my grandfather is pure blooded Chinese. While reading this book I’m happy I didn’t. Everything was so tedious… some too crude and even unimaginable. Through Peony the hungry ghost, I came to realize that not all these beliefs, can be assumed to be true. For so long I’ve been very rational about succumbing to old beliefs and customs. We’ll never know until we see and feel it.

Lisa See did great research and carefully weaved them together, making the facts fuse with fiction. I was instantly transported to the era where women suffer from hidden identities and self-discoveries… in world governed by men alone.

I think Peony in Love gave me more reason to believe that women are the stronger sex, even from time immemorial. 

Review: The House of the Winds

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Title: House of the Winds

Author: Yun, Mia

Year: 1998

Publisher: Interlink /Penguin Readers Guide Inside

 

Overview:

A mother with three children struggles to survive in 1960s South Korea after being abandoned by her husband. A first novel by a Korean-American writer. This series is designed to bring to North American readers the once-unheard voices of writers who have achieved wide acclaim at home, but are not recognized beyond the borders of their native lands. With special emphasis on women writers, Interlink’s Emerging Voices series publishes the best of the world’s contemporary literature in translation or original English. A portrait of a family whose lives have been deeply affected by the tumultuous long years of Japanese rule & the Korean War. (Source: Google Books)

 

I say:

House of the Winds is one of the first books I’ve read penned by an Asian writer (Non-Filipino). She made me read in awe about Korean culture, how unknown it is to me and to the rest of the world. There is more to Koreans, women to be exact, that we should know more of: their stories about love and hardships. All worth reading or telling to.

I felt for the Young Wife and her children, who held on and kept on moving forward even on the thresholds of falling apart. Her story may be similar to many others around the world, as painful and equally inspiring. Mia Yun gave her life in my imagination. It was through her vivid description of emotions, situations faced, even through her very actions. Taken from a young girl’s stand, the unmasked innocence put on view the family issues that cloud their society, again, something we all suffer from or stumble upon once in our lifetime.

The words of her book felt real to me. It is for mothers, wives, and daughters who bravely face life and all of its uncertainties.