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Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck

Imperial Woman (1956)

by Pearl S. Buck

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8401810,727 (4.01)47
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Pearl Buck's novel of the life of the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) is over long and written in over wrought prose. making the omnipresent narrator appear to be writing in some kind of strangled English for Chinese speakers. This made the book extremely difficult for me to read an it took me forever to make it through its almost 400 pages.

I know enough about Chinese history to know that Dowager Empress Cixi was an intelligent and ruthless palace schemer who, but the luck of having given birth to the only surviving male child of the Emperor, quickly maneuvered herself from position of lowly concubine to that of Second Consort, and then seized power in her own right and, through her arrogance and hubris largely caused the fall of the Qing dynasty.

Buck, however, while showcasing Cixi's intelligence, also portrays her as a lovesick female over her kinsman and former lover, Jung Lu. Maybe this is because Buck in her own life developed a cult of the personality around herself.and earned was regarded by many as being a spiteful and thoroughly disagreeable woman. Perhaps she identified with the Dowager Empress, but for whatever reason, this is a poorly written book that paints the Dowager Empress in a dishonest light. ( )
  etxgardener | Jun 25, 2016 |
This is a fictional account of the life of China’s last Empress, Tzu Hsi. As one of the Emperor’s favorite concubines, she gave birth to his first son and heir. After the Emperor’s death, she led the country as regent for her young son. She was better educated than most women, and she was very good at gaining and consolidating power. When her son proved to be an incompetent and weak ruler and died young, she took over again as regent for her nephew. He also failed to live up to her high standards, and after he organized a plot to have her killed, she took him prisoner and ruled for the rest of her life. Altogether, her reign lasted from 1861 to 1908. This was a turbulent period of Chinese history as the influence of the West on China was growing quickly. Although she was determined to keep foreigners out of China, the Empress had to give in after the Boxer Rebellion.

I enjoyed this book at first, but lost interest in it as the story progressed. Tzu Hsi was a remarkable and strong woman in an era when women were not supposed to be either of those things. She was also very human and subject to all the weaknesses that come with being human, and Buck’s novel did a very good job of depicting that, which made it hard to empathize with her. I did really enjoy getting to see the world from a different perspective. Overall, this novel just didn’t resonate with me the way some of Buck’s other works have, although I suspect I just was not in the right frame of mind for it right now. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
It isn't often I give up on a novel. Generally it's my policy to finish a book whether I'm enjoying the journey or not, because often I'm surprised in the last moments, finding the author has brought all the elements of the story together in a brilliant finish.

Such is not the case with Imperial Woman, by Pearl S. Buck.

Buck presents what should be a fascinating story about the last, and most famous, empress of China, Tzu Hsi. Instead Buck has taken the easy route and presented what is very nearly a Harlequin romance, instead of a tightly written novel rife with the subtleties and intrigues of the Imperial Court. There were moments I asked myself how many times we were going to be told about the beauty and grace of the Empress.

When Buck does present historical facts, it ends up being a dry, drawn-out narrative heavy on the expository and devoid of deep character point of view or input.

The result is a novel which feels interminable, plodding between longings of the heart and retention of power.

I am sure many readers would take issue with my assessment. That is the joy of debate and variety. But for me, this is a novel which falls into an epic fail category. ( )
  fiverivers | Dec 11, 2015 |
Reading about the Empress of the Qing Dynasty, one expects to read of greatness, perhaps because or in spite of Tzu Hsi being a woman. However, in her typical removed narrative style that borders on poetic, Buck reveals the challenges and curses of power, regardless of age or gender. To forsake all personal prospects for power, and the costs therein, is the true draw of the novel. A particularly good novel for readers unfamiliar with China's history at the end of the nineteenth century. ( )
  Meghanista | Oct 18, 2015 |
Before I attempt to say anything about this novel, I simply wish to note that I do not in any way award these five stars out of some misguided sentiment that this book accurately portrays China and all its entailing history as its own cultural members would. The most concrete experience I have with the country is having been taught the Chinese phrases for 'left turn', 'right turn', and 'straight ahead' during a road trip many years ago, and I assure you, neither my intercultural credibility nor my accent has improved since then. What I do award these five stars for is the wonderful piece of work that Buck created, a fictional recounting of the life of the last Empress of China.

It wasn't too long ago that I read [book:Memoirs of Hadrian|12172], another novel concerned with the fictional portrayal of a historical personage who ruled for much of their life over a vast and complex culture. Both that novel and this required my reader self to step back a moment from their usual outpost of critiquing from the realms of factual accuracy and moral codes, and instead plunge headfirst into the lives of these individuals, both of whom entire empires held in reverence. Within this respective novel, the girl Orchid, the imperial concubine Yehonala, the Empress Mother Tzu Hsi, and the venerable Old Buddha play out their shared life within the bodily confines of a single woman. A woman who grew from one of millions to be one of the chosen hundreds to finally the one venerated above all others, who stayed that way through thriving peace and cultural upheaval until the end of her days. A woman who never needed full approval from neither her kinsman nor the reader, but simply a willingness to follow her. And follow her I did.

The ease with which I immersed myself in this fictionalized biography of a foreign land is a credit to Buck and her lovingly thorough storytelling. For the difficulty with historical fiction, a difficulty that only increases when the fiction chooses to follow a single personage of notable fame, is the ever present competition between the enraptured gaze of the reader and the desire to fact check. What worsens the latter distraction even more so is when the cultural setting is completely foreign and, as noted previously, tempts the reader to view the book penned by an outsider as a true glimpse of the inside. And with the feeling of reading truth, comes the ease of subsequent judgment and all too frequent condemnation.

Thus, I could have tired of Buck's page after page of detailing the life of this young Manchu girl who grew to become the Empress of China, the traditional values, the cultural artifacts, the countless court proceedings that meandered as slowly as was needed to recount the days with full insight into the visual splendor and historical significance. I could have become frustrated with the Empress herself, achieving such power and all the self righteous confidence that often accompanies it, adhering to standards of living that seem so strange in comparison to my own. I could have turned the final page with a feeling that my time would have been better spent with an accredited biography, or even a book written by an actual denizen of that far off mainland.

But I didn't. I watched this Empress grow from the impetuous courage of youth to the venerable wisdom of old age, and I rooted her on in every page. I delighted in the beauty of both the aesthetic and the erudite contained within the walls of the Forbidden City, as well as the sheer wealth of this culture that despite my long familiarity with I in truth know so little about. I watched as the future took its horrific toll on the heartfelt desire to maintain the value of the past, and mourned the tragedy of one world power colliding with another in an overwhelming miasma of violent misunderstanding. From this fictional seat in the so called East, I watched as the West and its drastically different histories flung itself upon these shores so foreign to its inherent sociocultural natures. From the mind of an Empress, I understood the disparity between the power a ruler has, and what is truly required of them in order to successfully rule.

In short, while the setting was foreign and the facts perhaps not in full adherence, the story was a human one, something I can recognize in any form. I felt for this Empress and the country she cherished in her own brilliant and steadfast ways, and perhaps even learned a few things about an ancient world that exists alongside my own to this day. And when it comes to the realm of historical fiction, that's all that I ask for. ( )
  Korrick | Sep 12, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pearl S. Buckprimary authorall editionscalculated
Oddera, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Potter KirstenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Foreword: Tzu Hsi, the last ruling Empress of China, was a woman so diverse in her gifts, so contradictory in her behavior, so rich in the many aspects of her personality, that it is difficult to comprehend and convey her whole self.
It was April in the city of Peking, the fifth month of the solar year of 1852, the third month of the moon year, the two hundred and eighth year of the Manchu, the great Ch'ing dynasty.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0381980375, Hardcover)

Imperial Woman is the fictionalized biography of the last Empress in China, Ci-xi, who began as a concubine of the Xianfeng Emperor and on his death became the de facto head of the Qing Dynasty until her death in 1908.Buck recreates the life of one of the most intriguing rulers during a time of intense turbulence.Tzu Hsi was born into one of the lowly ranks of the Imperial dynasty. According to custom, she moved to the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen to become one of hundreds of concubines. But her singular beauty and powers of manipulation quickly moved her into the position of Second Consort.Tzu Hsi was feared and hated by many in the court, but adored by the people. The Empress's rise to power (even during her husband's life) parallels the story of China's transition from the ancient to the modern way.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:00 -0400)

The story of the last empress of China.--from Cover.

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