Tag Archives: Imperial Woman

Imperial Woman, The Story of the Last Empress of China by Pearl S. Buck

Imperial WomanThis remarkable novel fictionalises the extraordinary life of Tzu Hsi, the last Empress of China. I was utterly enthralled from start to finish. Chosen to be a concubine, she rose to become head of the Qing dynasty through her own intelligence, diligence and careful planning. She studies determinedly to understand affairs of state and eventually rules with a mixture of altruism, serenity and extreme ruthlessness. Only a writer as skilled as Pearl S. Buck could have brought such a complex and ambiguous character to life so vividly; I empathised so deeply with the Empress that even her acts of violence seemed necessary to sustain the most important thing: the integrity of the nation. Her central struggle is the preservation of the ancient ways against Western industrial and cultural influence.

The plaque hanging above the Empress is inscribed with her full title, literally translated as "The Current Holy Mother Empress Dowager of the Great Qing Empire, Cixi (kind and auspicious) Duanyou (upright and blessed) Kangyi (healthy and well-maintained) Zhaoyu (clear and pleasant) Zhuangcheng (solemn and sincere) Shougong (long-living and respectful) Qinxian (royal and sacrificial) Chongxi (magnanimous and prosperous).

The plaque hanging above the Empress is inscribed with her full title, literally translated as ‘The Current Holy Mother Empress Dowager of the Great Qing Empire, Cixi (kind and auspicious) Duanyou (upright and blessed) Kangyi (healthy and well-maintained) Zhaoyu (clear and pleasant) Zhuangcheng (solemn and sincere) Shougong (long-living and respectful) Qinxian (royal and sacrificial) Chongxi (magnanimous and prosperous)’ and I thought having a double-barrelled last name was excessive.

The writing has a few of the hallmarks of fairytale at the start, easing the reader in and emphasising the glorious setting, customs and costumes as if other-worldly. This contrasts starkly with the real political and personal trials that Tzu Hsi encounters. The details are magnificent – I think I’ll adopt the ancient tradition of having the day off the first day that the wisteria blooms. The description is perfection: ‘her thoughts circled about him like mourning doves’ and ‘ancient twisted trees were planted and tended as carefully as though they were human, and indeed some of the trees were given human titles, such as duke or king.’

I am totally fascinated by this era of history. As soon as I had finished reading, I went straight online to learn as much as I could about the Empress and to find images of her and the palaces she so adored. I spent many hours in a Wikipedia hole.

Since finishing this book I have tried to start a few others, but nothing is taking my interest. A book this vivid, evocative and riveting is proving hard to follow.


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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Beginnings/Endings of Books

Top Ten TuesdayThe Broke and The Bookish have thrown down the gauntlet once again, challenging fellow book bloggers to list the best beginnings and endings of books. Regular readers will remember that I pretty much covered my favourite beginnings in this post‘A Good Opening Line Can Make All the Difference’, so I think I’ll focus on endings here.

1. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, ‘So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.’

Listen to him read it here: 

Race2. Race by Studs Terkel, ‘I look at older people now and I love them. My father is beautiful…he says things that I think are crazy, and a few years later I find out that it wasn’t so crazy. That guy knew what he was talking about. If somehow we could get objectivity. If there were some big universal mirror…
   I have faith we can mature. Stranger things have happened. Maybe America, maybe the world is in its adolescence. Maybe we’re driving home from the prom, drunk, and nobody knows whether we’re going to survive or not. Maybe we’ll survive and maybe we’ll be a pretty smart old person, well-adjusted and mellow.
   I am guardedly optimistic- definitely guardedly. If everything is going to hell, it would be hard for me to get up in the morning. But I can’t honestly say, “sure, things will get better.” We might not make it home from the prom.’ 

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, ‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

Color Purple4. The Color Purple, Alice Walker, ‘But I don’t think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt.’

5. James Joyce’s The Dead, ‘His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.’

6. Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck (look out for a review later this week), ‘”I have not been so happy since I was a child,” she told them. “I remember now that when I was a child I loved to run into the rain-‘…
   “Heaven sends the rain,” she said. “How can I, a mortal, command the clouds?”‘
   But they insisted, and she could see they desired eagerly to praise her.
   “It is for your sake, Old Buddha, that the rain comes down, the fortunate rain, blessing us all because of you.”
   “Well, well,” she said, and laughed to indulge them. “Perhaps,” she said, “perhaps-“

7. Astrotomato’s Planetfall: All Fall Down, ‘”This story isn’t over.”‘Planetfall

8. William Shakespeare’s King Lear, ‘The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest have borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.’

9. Gerry Stoker’s Why Politics Matters ‘Achieving mass democracy was the great triumph of the twentieth century. Learning to live with it will be the great achievement of the twenty-first.’ 

10. Dave Gorman vs. The Rest of The World ‘Do you play any games? Real life, not computer games. Would you like a game?’ 

Full evaluations of the last two can be found in this post about how to effectively end a non-fiction piece. Please not that the numbering is not a ranking, just the order in which they occurred to me.

What do you think of my selections? What are your favourite endings of books? 

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