#913 Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck

Imperial Woman by Pearl S. BuckImperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck

Cixi was the last empress of China who outlived not only the emperor, but her son. At a young age, when she was known as Orchid, she was chosen to be a concubine for the current emperor. Her cousin was already a consort to the emperor. Orchid was able to find her way into the good graces of the emperor and soon was carrying his child. All hoped it would be a boy. The baby born to her cousin had been a girl, so there was still hope that a male heir would be born.

During all of this there was change and strife in the land of China. Ideas were changing and people became dissatisfied with the way things were ruled in the country. More and more foreigners were showing up, building their buildings, and bringing strange gods to the land.

The emperor was not long-lived. He died when his son was only five years old. Orchid, or Cixi, and her cousin, aided in ruling the land of China until the young emperor reached age. Despite having reached a ruling age, Cixi still held a lot of power in the land of China. At first, she hated foreigners, but decided to work with them to some degree. Her son died and she had to choose another to be emperor, but did not let go of much power. She played an important part in the ruling of China until her death in 1908.

What I liked

This is a historical fiction about real people. Cixi was real. She really did do a whole lot of ruling at a time when women weren’t doing a whole lot of ruling. In the book Cixi admired Queen Victoria, but the two never met, that I recall. Cixi’s rule was really the end of an era. It wasn’t too long after her death that China adopted much different ruling practices.

I admire the fact that Cixi came from pretty much nothing and was able to be elevated to the rank of empress. There was still a lot of tradition in the world this time which stated you had to be some sort of noble to get into a position like empress. You couldn’t just be the daughter of a merchant and be the queen of England one day. I admire the previous rule of China for this fact, even though there are a whole lot of things not to admire about it.

There was definitely a lot of great history in this book.

What I didn’t like

I didn’t particularly like the empress in the book. She seemed very ruthless. Maybe it’s because I’m not necessarily down with the idea of ruthless women. I certainly wouldn’t do anything and everything, regardless of feelings and others, to get and maintain power for myself. I also don’t really like the system that was in place. It all seemed very cat-fighty. The woman who had the emperor’s heart first, didn’t get to be the empress because she had a daughter instead of a son and that’s just unfortunate. Their whole world was determined by who had a daughter and who had a son. You could be promoted or put away just because of a penis. That’s not fair.

I also don’t really like the idea of polygamy at all. While the emperor wasn’t technically married to all of his concubines, he still had multiple women and I’m just not cool with that. It shouldn’t be a promoted habit for a man to go around sleeping with as many women as he wants, while he has a family.

Overall

Cixi rules all…

Weigh In

Would you ever be someone’s concubine?

Should ruling a country be a privilege only people from certain backgrounds can aspire to? Keep in mind, we do the same thing in the United States. Our presidents have money, lots of it. You can’t run for president on thirty-thousand dollars a year.

#913 Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck was originally published on One-elevenbooks

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#854 Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck

 Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck

Ling Tan and his family live outside of Nanjing. They are all farmers. He has three sons with his wife. Two of the sons are married, but the youngest is as pretty as a girl. There is also a daughter, two daughters in fact, but one has married and moved into town with her husband, a shopkeeper. The family has their ordinary woes. They plant crops. They make meals. The mother-in-law complains about the daughter-in-laws. Life soon changes.

There are rumors that an enemy has come ashore. It’s a long way away, they say. It won’t come here, they say. Student protestors start the chaos that soon descends upon the city and countryside. The Japanese have invaded China. Shops are destroyed. Women are raped. People are murdered. Food and goods are appropriated. Ling Tan hides his family in the woods or at the home of a white woman. She tries to shelter all who come, but the Japanese soldiers still have demands of her.

Ling Tan’s family loses someone and they make plans to get past the invaders. They make a secret room. They illegally¬† catch and eat fish. The bolder of Ling Tan’s family take movements against the Japanese. There are plots and attacks. In the end, Ling Tan is still a farmer, but he’s seen some awful things.

What I liked

Out of the Pearl S. Buck books I’ve read, this one seems the grittiest. It’s about war. It’s violent. It was published in 1942 and some of the things in the book weren’t exactly talked of in polite society. This makes this book cutting edge, in a way, for its time.

Pearl was a bit outspoken about matters in China. She cared a lot about the people she met in China and I’m sure she wasn’t at all happy about the brutal invasion of China by Japan. This book is fiction, but Pearl was certainly able to capture what it would have been like. She didn’t leave a lot out either, so you have to hand it to Pearl for doing historical fiction so well.

What I didn’t like

I’ve known the Japanese invasion of China was brutal for a long time. I’ve read a whole lot of fiction books set during this time period. With that said, this book seems to take it to a new level of brutality. It was awful. It’s terrible that it happened. I’m glad they all seem to get along now.

This book also takes quite a while to read. It could be boiled down to be more essential, but if you like that whole saga feel of it, you wouldn’t want it to be pared down to anything other than it is.

Overall

Let us be glad this war is over.

Weigh In

If you know anything about the Japanese invasion of China, do you think you could have survived it?

Is war harder on people who have little or on people who have more?

#854 Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck was originally published on One-elevenbooks

#691 The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze ChooThe Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Li Lan’s mother is dead and her father isn’t quite paying attention to things as he should. It’s about time Li Lan was married. There is talk here and there and a ghost marriage is mentioned. A ghost marriage is when a living person marries a dead person, so that the dead person may have the rewards of marriage. The person to whom the ghost marriage would be is not someone Li Lan is fond of, she doesn’t even know him very well, but he starts to appear in her dreams.

The dreams are not unpleasant, at first, but soon it is evident that the ghost has some unnatural sway on the land of the dead. The dreams become nightmares and Li Lan is willing to do anything to get rid of the dreams, even take a potion from a shady medium. During all of this, Li Lan develops feelings for the dead man’s cousin, who is actually the heir of the house of Lim. This all unravels when Li Lan takes a potion that makes her comatose for some time.

When she comes to, she’s not in her body. Her body is still alive, but Li Lan is not in it. She’s a spirit. Try as she might, she cannot get back inside of it. She meets other ghosts and starts asking around about what to do. Li Lan is able to see firsthand that her dead fiance has a huge sway in the ghost world. It’s because he has lots of money.

Li Lan meets a man named Er Long who tells her to go to the plains of the dead and find out what is happening. If there is evidence, the dead fiance may have to go before the courts of Hell and be punished for his misdeeds. Li Lan agrees to go. There she finds out all manner of things, including what her dead mother is like. She eventually does get back to the world of the living, despite some very narrow scrapes, but things there are not well either. Another ghost has her eye on Li Lan’s body and it’s not a good thing.

Ultimately, Li Lan must choose what type of life she wants. Does she want to parade as a regular human, who has never seen the world of the dead, or does she want to live on the fringe of the living and the dead, in a world she has now become somewhat familiar with?

What I liked

When I first started reading this book, I thought it was going to be a run-of-the-mill book about a Chinese girl who marries into some house or the other and things happen. Maybe her marriage is bad. Maybe it’s not. Whatever. This book exceeded my expectations. It was fascinating. Li Lan goes on some amazing adventures, but all the folklore is wonderful. I love how Yangsze brought the world of the dead to life. If you could see the spirit world, what would be there? Yangsze answered this question in relation to the beliefs of the area and it’s so incredibly interesting.

Li Lan is a likeable person. She’s not your typical froo-froo girl. Some of the other characters also turn out to be extremely interesting, such as Er Long, very interesting guy. Then there is the ill-fated Fan–also another highly interesting character with an evil twist. I love it.

I love folklore. This book brought folklore I have heard about to life.

What I didn’t like

Nothing. This was a great book.

Overall

I aint afraid of no ghost husband.

Weigh In

Would you marry a ghost if it gave you material gain in the current life?

Do you think you could imagine your belief of the afterlife as a real place?

#650 The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement by Amy TanThe Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Violet grows up in unusual circumstances. She lives in China, but she is taught that she is an American, which is party true. Her mother is an American running a courtesan house. She opens her house to both western men and Chinese men. Violet feels as if her mother doesn’t love her, because she’s always busy with her business.

Some secrets come to light, but there is also a governmental change in China that isn’t as friendly towards westerners. Violet’s mother plans to leave the country with Violet. There is some mix up with Violet’s birth certificate and Violet doesn’t get out, but her mother does. A man named Fairweather was supposed to be in charge of getting Violet on the boat, but he sells her instead to a courtesan house.

At first Violet has hope that she will get out, but she soon resigns herself to her life as a courtesan. Preparations are made to sell her virginity. Life as a courtesan moves on for Violet. She receives presents from her male clients. Her life goes well for a while, until she meets an American man. This man falls in love with her and she moves in with him and has a baby, her life should be happy, but it doesn’t turn out that way.

Violet is soon bounced back in to the courtesan lifestyle, and again into marriage, and again into hardship. Ultimately, she does find a way to reunite with missing family members.

What I liked

Amy Tan is always a great read. She writes about China and she writes about family. Family is a concept that is very important in China, but it’s generally important to anyone. Amy’s books are almost always from points of views of different members in a family. It’s interesting to see how an event plays out through different sets of eyes belonging to people who are connected.

I liked learning a little more about Chinese courtesan culture. It’s quite similar to the geisha culture of Japan.

This book was set at something of a tumultuous time for westerners in China. Western people had gone to China to live, but the government changed and that made it more difficult for them to live there. Some of them had to leave. This very same situation has happened in many countries and governments change.

This is a period of China’s history that is apparently really captivating to Amy because she’s written about it before, but in different areas, in relation to other characters.

What I didn’t like

This book seemed really long. It took me a while to read it. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you want to read it, it’s going to take a while.

Overall

I’d like to visit China and see some of the culture that Amy writes about.

Weigh In

Could you imagine leaving a country you’ve lived in most of your life because you weren’t native to that country? What do you think would happen to you?

Do you think Violet became a prisoner of her lifestyle?

#646 The Turning by Glora Whelan

The Turning by Glora Whelan The Turning by Glora Whelan

Tanya is a Russian ballerina. She has worked very hard to get to where she is. Her family is poor, even though her father is a doctor. They live in a small apartment and share a bathroom with several other families, but at least Tanya can dance. There’s also Sasha, whom she loves. He’s an artist who works himself all the time trying to provide for her grandmother.

Times are unsure in Russia. Some people want democracy. Others want something else. There’s an election coming up and there are political protests all the time, which Tanya’s grandfather is a part of.

Tanya worries that she will not be chosen to go to Paris to perform because of her affiliation with her grandfather.

Tanya had planned on leaving Russia and going to Paris. She doesn’t want to stay in a country where she seemingly has to little personal freedom. She knows that if she leaves Russia she can send money back to her family. Things happen though and Tanya becomes conflicted about her choice to leave Russia.

What I liked

I haven’t read a lot of books about Russia. This one was set in a rather interesting era of Russia’s history, that I honestly didn’t know a lot about. It’s in the not-too-distant past. There were surely Russians who wanted things to change. Tanya is fictional, but she is a fiction of someone who very well might have been real. Maybe there was actually a talented ballet dancer who was thinking about leaving Russia for elsewhere, but then found things about her country to fight for.

Tanya also learned that family is important. Sometimes you have an opportunity to make yourself better in some way, but you have to forego that opportunity because of your family. You know you’ll leave them behind and they may fare worse than they did, if you took that opportunity. This is all part of the sacrifice of being an adult.

What I didn’t like

Sometimes I feel as if you have to make that selfish choice. I think sometimes we just have to make the choice that is best for us. That choice may in fact cause our family suffering in some way, but sometimes I think you should just do it. I don’t think I could have made the choice the stay in Russia had I been in Tanya’s situation. I don’t want to be restricted and hampered. I don’t want to share a bathroom with several other families. I want my own darn bathroom and if that means leaving the country to get it, I might just do it.

If all of a sudden the United States became this total fascist place, you know where I would be? Not here. I would sneak my butt across a border under the cover of trees, living off of roots and berries and sticks, and get out of the country. Granted, Tanya’s Russia wasn’t that bad. It may not have been pleasant, but it wasn’t totally awful.

I feel like Tanya could have made herself a much better life by leaving Russia, but ultimately, it was her choice and she chose to stay with her family.

Overall

Let’s all go to the ballet.

Weigh In

Would you leave Russia?

If your country became terrible, would you leave?