Monday, January 30, 2006

Empress, Shan Sa

Initially in french, this will be the first time Imperatrice has been published in English. Current date for publication is May 2006.

The narration style is very unique for a novel. I've read numerous works of fiction that have been translated from other languages so I do believe that the writing style was very deliberate and not a result of translation style. We trace the rise and reign of China's first female emperor, Empress Wu, who reigned for 50 years (think China's version of Queen Elizabeth). Empress reads like the annals of history must read. It feels like more of a listing of events and conversations that have been recorded by attentive poet-scribes than a flowing narrative. This does not detract from the book, but rather enhances it. It gives a sense of authenticity. We never leave the point of view of Empress Wu, starting with her birth and continuing after her death.

Works of historical fiction that look at the lives of great historical women can vary so greatly from the stunning, lyrical, yet well-researched writings of Anchee Min or Indu Sundaresan to the too-colorfully-painted, highly fictional accounts by Philippa Gregory or Sarah Dunant. It is difficult to tackle the lives of women in places where while there were incredibly detailed accounts of daily life down to conversations held in court, but the private points ov view of these women are, for the most part, hidden forever. We can only speculate based on these public records, private letters and even poetry. Shan Sa does an exquisite job of drawing you into a world that while brutal in its bloodshed, was decadent and virile. The arts thrived and wars virtually non-existent except for minor rebellions. Commoners were given a chance to get involved with their imperial government and women had freedoms unparallelled either before the tang Dynasty and, in many ways, since.

For a great article on this era, specifically with regard to women, see Women of the Tang Dynasty. It just goes to show that even when women have freedom, choice and even power....the tide can be overturned by political power, ego and religion and send women back to being submissive slaves of men for hundreds of years. No matter how it looks now, we must always be aware that things can change. Again.

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