Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dragon Ladies

I promise kid/YA books later this week, today's more adult non fiction, but with really good reason!

I have reviews up today in the new issue of Edge of the Forest. Head over there to read lots of reviews and cool stuff, as well as my thoughts on Leap and Duchessina: A Novel of Catherine de' Medici.

Now, when reviewing a work of historical fiction, it's always nice to know something about the time period. If you're reviewing a novelization of someone's life, you should know something about that person besides what Wikipedia and Biography Resource Center (my favorite biography database) can give you.

So, I turned to Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda.

This is an exhaustive look at a complicated woman. Catherine was Queen of France, and mother to 3 kings of France. She held most of the power during the religious civil wars, was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth's "Frog" was Catherine's youngest son) and history has placed the blame for the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre squarely at Catherine's feet.

Frieda has tried to free Catherine of this blame-- she paints a picture of a surgical assassination gone horribly wrong but... the fact that she wasn't guilty of massacre, just ordering the political killings of a dozen men? I'm not entirely sure that makes her better.

Frieda writes a compelling story about a place and time period I know little about. She explains context extremely well and her story is well researched and well told-- for my research, I really only needed the first few chapters, but I was so intrigued by Frieda's portrait that I had to continue reading.

There are 3 inserts of color photographs and paintings that serve as great visual aids and I really appreciated the "Cast of Characters" at the beginning of the book--it's hard to keep all those Henri's straight, plus the ever-changing Duke of Guise...

If you like biography, France, powerful women, religious history, or Renaissance history, I recommend this book.

Another powerful woman who is often a controversial figure is Madame Chiang Kai Shek.

In Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China's Eternal First Lady by Laura Tyson Li, we get another look at a complicated and complex person.

I think Li really wanted this to be a sympathetic view of Madame Chiang Kai- Shek, but after a certain point, the material just wouldn't let her. I learned a lot about Taiwan, as well as the craziness that was the first 50 years of the twentieth century in China. (1911 brought the overthrow the the Qing Dynasty and the new Republic, which never fully gained control of all of China-- much was ruled by warlords, then the Communists were making noises so there was that war, then the Japanese were invading, so there was that war, then back to the Communists...)

After reading this book, I finally understood why Communism succeeded in China and why many saw it as a much better alternative to Chiang's government. But oh, she played the American government and people like a fiddle to get support for a losing cause for years. The KMT (Guomingdang) only lasted as long as it did because of US support...

A revealing and fascinating look at the birth of Communist China, China/Taiwanese political tensions, and the woman who stood in the middle of it all.


Kristin said...

I did go to see Jasper Fforde and absolutely loved it! I'm sorry that I couldn't find you in that crowd. At one point, I thought I saw you in line, but I was in line, so...

I must think of something wonderful for the colouring contest!

Anonymous said...

These sound interesting. I should be listed under "Jone" at GoodReads/

Lotus Reads said...

Brilliant post, thank you! I have the Catherine de Medici book on my shelf, but to tell you the truth, I am intimidated by its size. I bought it because she, Catherine the Great and Lucretia Borgia remain my three favorite women from days gone by. My hat is off to you for summarizing the book in a nice,concise post.

Jennie said...


I won't lie to you-- it took me forever to read. But, I really only needed to read the first few chapters for background on a different book I was reading. The book was so interesting though, that I had to follow it through to the end. I recommend picking it up!