It’s a freebie week!
So if you’re a Litten (a regular on Litsy), you may know that I run a monthly book photo challenge (I’m @reallifereading). And one of my prompts this month was “royals”.
While thinking of books that would fit this for my own photo, and while browsing through the hashtag, I realized that most books about royalty that were featured were of the western kind – that is, the many royal families past and present (and fictional) of Europe, especially the United Kingdom.
But what about the rest of the world? There were – and still are – royal families in non-western countries. In Singapore, I remember a visit from a Thai princess to my secondary school. The Sultan of Johor (the closest state in Malaysia just across the Causeway from Singapore) and his family regularly visit Singapore. In fact, Asia has more monarchs than any other continent and that’s the focus of my list.
I’ve read just a few of these books, and many are new-to-me discoveries from researching this topic. Most of them are works of fiction, some classics, and non-fiction, and as far as possible, #ownvoices.
The Red Chamber – Pauline Chen (my review)
A retelling of the Chinese classic, The Dream of the Red Chamber.
My Last Empress – Da Chen
‘A sweeping story of passion and obsession, set against the upheavals of 19th-century imperial China”
Empress Orchid – Anchee Min
The Last Empress – Anchee Min
A young girl enters the Imperial Palace as a low-ranking concubine.
Empress – Shan Sa (my review)
A ravishing historical novel of one of China’s most controversial historical figures: its first and only female emperor, Empress Wu, who emerged in the Tang Dynasty and ushered in a golden age.
Empress Dowager Cixi : The Concubine Who Launched Modern China – Jung Chang
Packed with drama, fast paced and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population, and as a unique stateswoman
Love and Death in Kathmandu: A Strange Tale of Royal Murder -Amy Willesee, Mark Whittaker
(This is of interest to me as it happened just a few weeks after I left Nepal – I had been there for a two-week hiking trip and it is one of the most unforgettable vacations I’ve ever had).
On June 1, 2001, the heir to the Nepalese throne, Crown Prince Dipendra, donned military fatigues, armed himself with automatic weapons, walked in on a quiet family gathering, and, without a word, mowed his family down before turning a gun on himself. But Dipendra did not die immediately, and while lying in a coma was declared king. He was now a living god.
The Tale of Genji – Murasaki Shikibu
Written in the eleventh century, this portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan is widely celebrated as the world’s first novel. The Tale of Genji is a very long romance, running to fifty-four chapters and describing the court life of Heian Japan, from the tenth century into the eleventh.
The Pillow Book – Sei Shonagon
Written by a lady of the court at the height of Heian culture, this book enthralls with its lively gossip, witty observations, and subtle impressions.
The Confessions of Lady Nijo – Lady Nijo
In about 1307 a remarkable woman in Japan sat down to complete the story of her life. The result was an autobiographical narrative, a tale of thirty-six years (1271-1306) in the life of Lady Nijo, starting when she became the concubine of a retired emperor in Kyoto at the age of fourteen and ending, several love affairs later, with an account of her new life as a wandering Buddhist nun.
The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor – Zahirud-din Muhammad Babur, Wheeler M. Thackston (Translator)
Both an official chronicle and the highly personal memoir of the emperor Babur (1483–1530), The Baburnama presents a vivid and extraordinarily detailed picture of life in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India during the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries
The Twentieth Wife (Taj Mahal Trilogy #1) – Indu Sundaresan
An enchanting seventeenth-century epic of grand passion and adventure, this debut novel tells the captivating story of one of India’s most legendary and controversial empresses — a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles, and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal empire.
Raj – Gita Mehta
Jaya Singh is the intelligent, beautiful, and compassionate daughter of the Maharajah and Maharani of Balmer. Raised in the thousand-year-old tradition of purdah, a strict regime of seclusion, silence, and submission, Jaya is ill-prepared to assume the role of Regent Maharani of Sirpur upon the death of her decadent, Westernized husband. But Jaya bravely fulfills her duty and soon finds herself thrust into the center of a roiling political battle in which the future of the kingdom is at stake… and her own future as well.
The Glass Palace – Amitav Ghosh
Set in Burma during the British invasion of 1885, this masterly novel by Amitav Ghosh tells the story of Rajkumar, a poor boy lifted on the tides of political and social chaos, who goes on to create an empire in the Burmese teak forest.
In the Shadow of the Banyan – Vaddey Ratner (my review)
For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus.
The Girl from the Coast
Monarchy in South-east Asia – Roger Kershaw
(Sounds more academic but it is hard to find books about SE Asian royal families)
This title is the first study to relate the history and contemporary role of the South East Asian monarchy to the politics of the region today.
Moon Princess – Sao Sanda
“Narrated by the eldest daughter of Sao Shwe Thaike, the Prince of Yawnghwe, The Moon Princess recounts both the story of her early life and at the same time provides a fascinating memoir of her father who, in 1948, became first President of the Union of Burma after the country gained its independence. She describes growing up in the Shan States and records the changes that occurred during the periods of British colonial rule, war and Japanese occupation, the return of the British administration, the troubled years after Burma’s Independence and, finally the military takeover in 1962.”