Although this is a semi-fictional story, it follows closely the life and career of the last actual Empress of China, Cixi. In Pearl S. Buck’s style of greatly personalizing her characters it presents almost a moment-to-moment description of what the characters did, thought, ate and wore, none of which, given Buck’s intimacy with China, sounds far from what really happened. The book ends before the real last empress dies in 1908 but somewhat on a high note. We can almost feel the rigidity of China’s ancient system and their best effort to keep it intact despite the very changed world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Although a novel, this book revealed to me more about pre-modern China than any history I'd read, since it dealt with the actual daily life in the country, first the peasantry, then the imperialistic government of an emperor worshiped like diety. I found the story as exciting and compelling as any I've ever encountered. I loved the book, and perhaps even more than the ever-popular, THE GOOD EARTH (which is also marvelous!). It took me inside a world of which I knew nothing, one totally foreign, one I never could have imagined.
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