Picks and Pans Review: Empress Orchid

UPDATED 02/16/2004 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/16/2004 at 01:00 AM EST

By Anchee Min

bgwhite bgwhite bgwhite  

"A tragedy foreshadows good luck," says one character to Orchid, the heroine of this lush novel set in 1852 China. The prophecy bears out, for Orchid is soon plucked to become one of Emperor Hsien Feng's seven wives. The novel is based on the true story of the 17-year-old who traded poverty for the ornate confines of the emperor's Forbidden City guarded by 2,000 eunuchs.

The luxury of the palace barely disguises the treachery it takes to survive there, and Min superbly chronicles Orchid's savvy attempts to win the emperor's heart so she can bear him an heir. History has blamed Orchid for the fall of the Ch'ing dynasty. Min, however, evokes Orchid as a smart politician and demanding mother. While the book's historical research impresses, Min's prose brings immediacy to the period. One woman possesses a "scorpion mouth but a tofu heart." The words also aptly describe this book's unforgettable heroine.

Your Reaction

Follow Us

On Newsstands Now

Lupita Nyong'o: Most Beautiful!
  • Lupita Nyong'o: Most Beautiful!
  • Chelsea Clinton is Pregnant!
  • Exclusive Royal Tour Diary

Pick up your copy on newsstands

Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine


From Our Partners

Watch It

Editors' Picks

From Our Partners

Sign up for our daily newsletter and other special offers.
    Choose your newsletters
Thank you for signing up! Your request may take up to one week to be processed.
    see all newsletters