Biographies an easy bridge to nonfiction



I’ve always been hesitant to branch over into the world of nonfiction literature. I considered it the last remainder of my youth – if young adult and teen fiction no longer interested me, then obviously I was old and washed up, right? My bias against nonfiction, as unfounded as it may have been, kept me away from the genre’s books for fear of being forced into adulthood via droll chapters of unexciting facts.

But as I’ve matured, I’ve realized that an adventure is an adventure. My obsession with reading comes from a desire to explore the world, and I can do that vicariously through real and created characters alike. Eventually, I ventured into the previously uncharted territory of the nonfiction section, walking through aisles of history books and wondering why I thought this would ever be a good idea. I ended up in the biography section, picking books randomly from the shelves, judging them quickly based on their covers and putting them back in a rather careless fashion.

With it’s ruby red book jacket and golden embellishments, Jung Chang’s “Empress Dowager Cixi” quite literally stood out from the other lifeless paperbacks on the shelves. As a Chinese language minor, I was intrigued by the summary on the inside cover: a woman who managed to work her way up through the Chinese hierarchy and set a new standard for women in the country.

It begins with her as a small child and follows her as she, at the age of 16, is chosen as one of the emperor’s concubines. Cixi utilizes her natural talent and wit, eventually launching a palace coup against her husband’s regents and making herself the real ruler of China through a somewhat underhanded but effective process.

“Empress Dowager Cixi” serves as a good bridge for anyone considering adventuring into nonfiction. Its subject matter is made more compelling by its factual basis, and it tells a story that is both empowering and raw. Chang’s candid, straightforward writing style details Cixi’s life with little to no embellishment. Her story is remarkable enough without any editorial antics, and Chang presents her life in a clear and concise but still engaging way, avoiding flowery language and instead writing brief, to-the-point chapters.

The best adventures are the ones that are real, not imagined. “Empress Dowager Cixi” will destroy any biases its readers have about nonfiction, leaving them craving real stories rather than created ones.

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