Please allow me to introduce you to The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry, a novel of awakenings, broadened horizons and survival. This novel places our heroine into the midst of the action: world changes, European viewpoints and personal growth all play large parts in this story. Please read on for my review.
Sai Jinhua is a legendary figure in Chinese history, but like many who have attained legend-level popular knowledge, the truth of the life takes second stage to the stories that are perpetuated. Alexandra Curry attempts to use research and imagination to tie Jinhua’s life together from childhood and taking knowledge of the time, practices and attitudes to ‘fill out’ her story. With larger and more important details true to the history, the personality and friendships give this story life, and breathe humanity into a figure, and creating an intriguing read in the process.
Told in multiple parts, this book reads more as snapshots in time around important milestones, not all the pieces flow neatly together as such, but the end result is a fairly comprehensive picture of a life: friendships, growth, and personal power all are solidly depicted in each section, and we see how Jinhua came to incorporate the truths that often varied with place and company.
From heartbreaking and occasionally hard to read moments early in her story, to a less obvious sort of heartbreak and disillusionment with life, until her death. With several unanswered questions, there are gaps in her story that may trouble readers: this is not a story that ends with “and they all lived happily ever after”. Life, particularly the one lived by Jinhua is complicated and complex, and it isn’t always necessary to give every minute detail, real or imagined. Taken as a snapshot, each section provides a small glimpse into the life, but in no way provides a full picture. Most notable is the lack of options for all women in China, and while her travels did allow her to see and reach for something more, and the conflicts that created for a woman who’s life took so many unexpected and often fortuitous turns.
This is a very intriguing, if not breezy read, it will take you through several moments, years, places and events. But, the story is worth the time invested if you are a fan of historic fiction, and promises wonderful things to come from this debut author.
Title: The Courtesan
Author: Alexandra Curry
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published by: Dutton
Published on: 8 September, 2015
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 11 Hours; 16 minutes
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A timeless novel of one woman who bridged two worlds in a tumultuous era of East meets WestThe Courtesan is an astonishing tale inspired by the real life of a woman who lived and loved in the extraordinary twilight decades of the Qing dynasty. To this day, Sai Jinhua is a legend in her native land of China, and this is her story, told the way it might have been.
The year is 1881. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left an orphan, alone and unprotected after her mandarin father’s summary execution for the crime of speaking the truth. For seven silver coins, she is sold to a brothel-keeper and subjected to the worst of human nature. Will the private ritual that is her father’s legacy and the wise friendship of the crippled brothel maid be enough to sustain her?
When an elegant but troubled scholar takes Jinhua as his concubine, she enters the close world of his jealous first wife. Yet it is Jinhua who accompanies him--as Emissary to the foreign devil nations of Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and Russia--on an exotic journey to Vienna. As he struggles to play his part in China's early, blundering diplomatic engagement with the western world, Jinhua’s eyes and heart are opened to the irresistible possibilities of a place that is mesmerizing and strange, where she will struggle against the constraints of tradition and her husband’s authority and seek to find “Great Love.”
Sai Jinhua is an altered woman when she returns to a changed and changing China, where a dangerous clash of cultures pits East against West. The moment arrives when Jinhua’s western sympathies will threaten not only her own survival, but the survival of those who are most dear to her.
A book that shines a small light on the large history of China’s relationship with the West The Courtesanis a novel that distills, with the economy of a poem, a woman’s journey of untold miles to discern what is real and abiding.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.