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Empress: A Novel (P.S.)

Empress: A Novel (P.S.)

Empress: A Novel (P.S.)

One of China’s most controversial figures, Empress Wu was its first and only female emperor, emerging in the seventh century during the great Tang Dynasty to usher in a golden age. Throughout history, her name has been defamed and her story distorted. But now, after thirteen centuries, Empress Wu flings open the gates of the Forbidden City and tells her own astonishing tale—revealing a fascinating, complex figure who in many ways remains modern to this day. Writing with epic assurance, poet

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3 comments on “Empress: A Novel (P.S.)

  1. 29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Inside the Mind of China’s Only Woman Emperor in 5,000 Years, June 5, 2006
    By 
    Steve Koss (New York, NY United States) –
    (VINE VOICE)
      
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Empress: A Novel (Hardcover)

    Historical novels drawn from the 5,000 years of Chinese civilization are experiencing a recent rebirth thanks to authors like Anchee Min and Shan Sa. The former author, already renowned for her books RED AZALEA and BECOMING MADAME MAO, last year released EMPRESS ORCHID, the story of China’s tragically powerful empress dowager Yehonala, infamously known to most Chinese people as Ci Xi. It was in fact Ci Xi who supposedly uttered her last, prophetic words from her deathbed in 1908: “Never again allow a woman to hold the supreme power in the State.”

    The year 2006 brings the story of another powerful woman from Chinese history. In EMPRESS, Shan Sa recreates the story of Empress Wu Ze Tian. Heavenlight, as she is referred to in the novel, was the first and only woman to achieve the regal title of Empress in China’s entire 5,000 year history. Ruthless in her ascent and maintenance of the throne into her 80′s, Wu Ze Tian is nevertheless remembered for her efforts to make life better for her poorest subjects by lowering taxes and raising the status of women. She also worked diligently to increase China’s agricultural output and supported that effort through extensive road building and other public works projects.

    To tell Heavenlight’s story, author Shan Sa resorts to a first person narrative, taking us inside the mind of a politically astute and highly intelligent Empress who navigates her way from obscurity as a Talented One (an imperial concubine) within the Forbidden City to a place beside her husband, Emperor Gao Zong – Little Phoenix in the book. The story opens, somewhat bizarrely, with the Empress-to-be still in her mother’s womb, about to pass into the world outside her mother’s body. From her early years living in a joyless home with a strikingly non-maternal mother to her banishment to a Buddhist nunnery to her invitation to enter the Emperor’s service as one his ten thousand concubines, Wu Ze Tian’s story emerges as that of a nonconformist. Heavenlight is a man trapped in a woman’s body, preferring horseback riding and archery to the womanly arts of singing and sewing. She emerges as a pragmatic problem-solver, willingly delving into court traditions and laws, honing her understanding of imperial politics, and generally eschewing the chase for the Emperor’s sexual favors. In doing so, she gains the Emperor’s attentions and ultimately his confidence and his heart.

    Shan Sa’s writing in EMPRESS is far denser than it was in her more affecting THE GIRL WHO PLAYED GO. She is sometimes so caught up in endless details that it seems she has gone out of her way to insert her extensive research into the novel regardless how it affects the pacing. Nevertheless, EMPRESS is filled with a palace’s worth of supporting characters, although most of them are somewhat underdrawn. They function mostly as role players in Heavenlight’s life, or in the palace intrigues. Regretably, we as readers get little sense of their perspective since we are seeing the world through Wu Ze Tian’s eyes only, and from her Olympian view, they are mostly beneath consideration other than as allies or threats.

    The strongest aspect of Shan Sa’s story line is the sense of loneliness and emotional isolation Wu Ze Tian suffers as Empress. Every day is a struggle to manage her husband (until he dies of illness), dozens of scheming Court officials, and her family members jockeying for their place in the imperial line of succession, not to mention the problems of the Tang empire itself. It is decidedly not, as they say, “good to be the king (or queen, or empress),” since much of that life is a daily battle of wits for survival accompanied by ruinous emotional barrenness.

    EMPRESS is an intriguing if somewhat slow-paced read, and it gives a strong sense of a very significant figure in Chinese history (although it regretably does not give the reader much context with respect to the Tang Dynasty in Chinese history and Empress Wu Ze Tian’s role therein). Still, as powerful and wealthy as Wu Ze Tian was, Shan Sa conveys the definite sense that her job was at least as much a prison as it was a palace. That alone is a fascinating perspective, one that I have also encountered in Su Tong’s recently translated novel, MY LIFE AS EMPEROR – another excellent read for those interested in Chinese history and culture.

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  2. 11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Empress, by Shan Sa, One of the Magnificent Books, May 28, 2007
    By 
    M. S. Owyang (Fremont, CA United States) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Empress: A Novel (Paperback)

    What can I say? I am flabbergasted and mesmerized at the same time! I have almost finished reading this book in one sitting; I simply cannot put it down. Regardless some comments from the other reviewers, to me, the Empress is one of the best, well written books that I have ever read. Another one is The Girl Who Played Go by the same author. The writing is poetic and the story is historical and informational. The intrigues in the ancient imperial court of China between the rivals were so vividly depicted and the events described were so real that give me a false feeling that I was among them. Unfortunately, it requires a bit of understanding of Chinese history and culture in order to fully appreciate this book. This may explain why these negative reviews by some people who have no or little knowledge of China. I could hardly wait to read it all over again. The book is highly commendable. Five stars all the way!

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  3. 5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A Beautiful Novel, March 27, 2008
    By 
    Christen S. Robertson (Newport, VA United States) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Empress: A Novel (Hardcover)

    I loved this novel, and for more than just the story. To me, the very act of reading this book brought just as much enjoyment as uncovering the story it told. The thoughtful description, interesting story, and beautiful images made this an enlightening read. It is certainly not your typical style of prose.

    Reading this book is like watching an ever-moving watercolor painting.

    Some here are complaining about the pace of the book. I find that interesting, because I LOVED the pace that the story set. The vivid descriptions, bordering on that blurring line between prose and poetry, really painted a vivid picture for me, and the casual pace of the book only served to intensify that for me.

    It may not be for everyone, but it certainly was for me.

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