The book is quite an easy read; so easy that you can almost skip-and-read vast chunks of it and yet not miss much. The pacing is quite inconsistent too as there is no consistency in how time is taken into account in the book. Short events may take a long time at times and long events are dispensed off in a sentence or two. That said, it is not a problem that is significant enough to make the book any less enjoyable a read, which it is.
The period covered in the book is the troubled 1800s when the old Chinese empire is on the wane, and under pressure from Europe. It is not a good book to read if you are looking for a historical perspective on what happened in that time period, as that aspect of the story only serves as a background with only just enough detail to provide context to Orchid, the main character’s, story.
Both the subject and the book had great potential to have been turned into something substantial, but Anchee Min does not succeed in doing that. You do get a pretty decent account of what eventually turns Orchid into who she becomes eventually, but it all feels very hurried.