Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

The Courtesan is a first novel from author Alexandra Curry, and she doesn't hesitate to tackle a historical figure that has fascinated historians, filmmakers, and biographers for decades.  

Sai Jinhua was a pampered little girl in 1881 when her life changed dramatically following the public execution of her father for "telling the truth".  The daughter of a beloved concubine, Jinhua is despised by her father's first wife, and she's quickly sold to a brothel--at the tender age of 7.  Your heart aches for this little girl who doesn't understand why her father never returned home.  This is truly a tale of a young girl, and later a young woman, who is oftentimes at the mercy of everyone else, with little choice of her own.  
 This novel is based on an actual person--Sai Jinhua is legendary in China as a famous courtesan who traveled to Europe in the late 1800's and as mistress to a Chinese emissary to Europe, finds herself in the midst of the political issues of the time.  She's a pretty courageous woman, living in a time of great upheaval not only for China, but for the world.  How does a woman survive with no family, no education, and nothing but her own smarts?  

Alexandra Curry moves the reader through Jinhua's life and all of her successes and failures, as well as a deep friendship with Suyin, a maid she befriends who ultimately makes a huge sacrifice in the name of loyalty and love.  

If you're a fan of historical fiction, step out of your usual fare and read about a completely different character--one who has left many unanswered questions that continue to intrigue people to this day.  Alexandra Curry attempts to recreate what might have been and make sense of Jinhua's mysterious life as a famous courtesan and political character, as well as a woman seeking happiness and peace.  

Sai Jinhua in 1887
 Rating:  7/10 for a completely different historical fiction novel.  Alexandra Curry writes an intriguing novel about a woman concubine swept up in the upheaval of Chinese and European politics while struggling to escape the whims of those around her.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

Thank you to Penguin Random House for a review copy!  

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