First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.

Anchee Min - Empress orchid

To rescue her family from poverty and avoid marrying her slope-shouldered cousin, seventeen-year-old Orchid competes to be one of the Emperor’s wives. When she is chosen as a lower-ranking concubine she enters the erotically charged and ritualised Forbidden City. But beneath its immaculate facade lie whispers of murders and ghosts, and the thousands of concubines will stoop to any lengths to bear the Emperor’s son. Orchid trains herself in the art of pleasuring a man, bribes her way into the royal bed, and seduces the monarch, drawing the attention of dangerous foes. Little does she know that China will collapse around her, and that she will be its last Empress.

I just finished Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. I was overwhelmed that it took me a over a week to finish it. After this literary heavyweight, I’ve decided to plunge into an author that I am very unfamiliar with, Anchee Min. Her debut novel, Empress Orchid, transported me back to late 19th century China, in the eternal and renowned halls of the Forbidden City, one of the lasting symbols of Chinese supremacy and power. This is just in line with my theme for the month – Asian literature.

I have just started reading the book and I am about two chapters in but I am already getting immersed into the story, contrary to my experience with The Satanic Verses. Upon researching more about the book, Empress Orchid was inspired by the true story of Empress Dowager Cixi of the Manchurian/Qing dynasty. I have read about the empress dowager before whilst reading encyclopedias when I was younger. Being the last empress of the last Chinese dynasty made her story interesting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that interested back then for I was more into geography than into biographies. This pseudo-biographical novel, however, earned my interest.

The book being a historical fiction is one of the main points that is slowly pulling me into the heart of narrative. But as I dig into the story, narrated in the first person point-of-view of Empress Orchid herself, what I am starting to enjoy is the Empress’ captivating tone. However, I find it a little out of sync to how I perceive the real life Empress. The Empress Orchid of the novel sounds servile. But it is also this servile and humble tone that I find compelling about the story.

The empress’ journey towards the throne begun in the southern village of Wuhu in Anhui province. Her father passed away and to honor his death, her family marched his dead body to Beijing. Orchid, the oldest of three children, was just seventeen back then. And the rest, they say is history. Nonetheless, I am still riveted by Orchid’s story. I want to learn more about her ascent to from the quagmires of poverty to the throne.

I can already surmise that the story is filled with the intrigues and gossips that reverberated in the sacrosanct halls of the Forbidden City. This, and many more, are working me up already. I wish I can finish this book this weekend for I am about to have another long week next week.

How about you fellow reader? What book are you currently reading? Reading is such a great potion against boredom in this period of lock down. I hope you’re all keeping safe in the comfort of your own homes.

Happy weekend everyone, and as always, happy reading!