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Empress:: A Novel [Hardcover]

Shan Sa
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 2007
Propelled by a shrewd intelligence, an extraordinary persistence, and a friendship with the imperial heir, Wu rose through the ranks to become the first Empress of China. And yet, from the moment of her death to the present day, her name has been sullied, her story distorted, and her memoirs obliterated by men taking vengeance on a women who dared become Emperor. This amazing historical novelization reveals a fascinating, complex figure who in many ways remains modern to this day.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: ReganBooks (1 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060817585
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060817589
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,202,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

Shan Sa was born in Beijing, began writing at the age of seven, and had her first poems, essays, and stories published at the age of eight. In 1990 she moved to Paris, where she learned French, studied philosophy, and worked for the famous painter Balthus. In 2001 her novel The Girl Who Played Go won the Goncourt Prize and earned critical acclaim worldwide. Shan Sa is also a celebrated painter with prominent exhibitions in Paris and New York. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonder tear in the fabric of time 17 Nov 2009
"Empress" is a wonderful tear in the fabric of time, which gives the reader the opportunity of seeing a long-gone Chinese empire, shaped by myriads of ceremonies and rituals, ambitious and quite murderous family clans, and one amazing person: Empress Wu.

I found the plot more like an overview with unnecessary emphasis on the sensual, but the description of the empire and this time is truly magnificant.

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars really good book 10 Feb 2011
i have enjoyed reading this book. it does give you great detail in the imperial hierarchy and what happens in the forbbined city.
it's worth reading
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Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
30 of 33 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 6 Jun 2006
By Steve Koss - Published on Amazon.com
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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empress, by Shan Sa, One of the Magnificent Books 29 May 2007
By M. S. Owyang - Published on Amazon.com
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!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not for everyone -- but I enjoyed it 5 July 2008
By RL - Published on Amazon.com
This book is not for everyone. It has a lot of explicit sex in it and, while this doesn't bother me, some might find it objectionable. The prose is elaborate and it seems like every character and building in this story has some kind of flowery title. The book has lots of characters in it, so many I gave up trying to figure out who they were, and many of them are not exactly explored in any detail. The book has little dialogue, consisting almost exclusively of a monologue by the main character.

In addition, the main character is a vicious, delusional egomaniac who ruthlessly kills everyone she sees as a threat -- and she sees everyone as a threat. She has something in common with Saddam Hussein: She not only kills her rivals she kills their families too. She even kills members of her own family without remorse. To give you an insight into her mindset, towards the end of the book she decides not to kill the members of her extended family (only nephews and grandchildren are left at this point) because it would make her "the laughing stock of the entire world." Yeah, that's a good reason not to kill your family, don't you think?

Although she kills everyone who threatens her, her subjects love her and she sees herself as a servant of the one true God. Right.

The sad thing is that, based on how the other charactrs in this book behave, she does what anyone else would do to maintain her position. The Forbidden City is a nest of intrigue, with gossip flying everwhere and every one of the 10,000 concubines struggling for power and survival.
This is actually one thing I liked about the book: It makes you think. It is a sad commentary on human nature and for this reason it is thought-provoking.

Another thing I like about the book is her descriptions of China in this time period. She tends to go overboard sometimes but, if you like to read stories about a different time and place, this book fits the bill.

In short, a book with flaws and definitely not "lite" reading but I enjoyed it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Novel 27 Mar 2008
By Christen S. Robertson - Published on Amazon.com
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.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard to Finish even for a Chinese! 25 Jun 2008
By G. Wu - Published on Amazon.com
One third way through this book, I couldn't continue anymore. After reading some of the reviews here, I agree the author seems to be very self focused. The book jacket sounded very interesting, so I picked up this book from the bookstore hoping to find a somewhat different view of the Empress. It is a historical fiction, there are places Shan Sa added plenty of her interpretation (the child birth description for example), but failed to enrich other areas (mainly the human interaction with others to build up all the characters).

As a result, the book is overly detailed in the trivial (may be interesting in small doses), but severely lacking in the normal character building. Readers cannot feel for the Empress as a person in whole since she was never described as a full being.

A word for the style: I find this to be very interesting that the author is a native of China. I wonder when she wrote this book, if she had Chinese in mind or French. I wonder if this kind of language is considered overly embellished for the French. It is a bit pretentious to my taste in English. I cannot comment on the translation from French to English, but I do think the English text at times do not make sense to me. It is again trying so hard to be different, in the process, it lost its meaning. For example, what does it mean "the pages of life that had already turned could not be opened again"? What cannot be opened? The pages, the life or the book which is intended...

At other times, I feel the translator neglected to reference obvious Chinese symbols. Or is it another trying attempt to make it different? When the Empress was officially appointed, she wore a dress painted in "pheasant" which should really be "phoenix". An empress dressed with pheasant design is just a ridiculous image.

In all, I gave it 2 stars because of Shan Sa's attempt. The book does not offer convincing substance to make it in the league of a novel. I think it is better edited to be a prose or a poem.
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