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The Courtesan

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song”

The Courtesan ~ Alexandra Curry 

There is not one element in this story that a Historical Fiction fan could possibly resist. A true story, China in the 1880’s, a seven year old girl Jinhua is sold into prostitution by her evil step mother. Forced to bind her feet, as per Chinese customs and trained on the technicalities of “bed business” she is eventually taken as a Concubine by a high ranking Chinese diplomat. With him she travels to Europe and experiences a few months of fairytale bliss of friendship and romance; only to return to a changing and tumultuous China. If this story sounds almost too fantastical to be a true account, that’s because it probably is. Jinhua has achieved legendary status in China and nobody can be quite sure of the facts of her life. Alexandra Curry admits to have taken the poetic license of “filling in the gaps” and in turn has been able to paint an artistic picture of the life of a Chinese courtesan and of China during the years of the Boxer Rebellion.

Curry also includes in this book, Jinhua’s encounters with some famous people from history that you might have heard of and she might never have met. A scholarly friend of Oscar Wilde brings along his contribution to the outlook on homosexuality in these times, the Austrian Empress Elizabeth meets Jinuah to better reveal the exotic differences in genteel women from the East and the West.

Jinhua :  I was sold into prostitution at age seven and had my feet bound soon after

Reader:  Brave!

Jinhua:  I am extremely well read and can recite poetry on cue

Reader: You astonish me!

Jinhua: Within a few months of living in Austria, I pretty much spoke fluently in German

Reader: Wait, what? I’m beginning to feel you’re exaggerating a little

Jinhua: A lot of men love me, women want to be me and I’m sort of a legend

Reader: Hold on…

Why you should read it:

  • The story of the life of a truly courageous, curious and strong willed woman; if not a little fantasised it is nonetheless inspiring
  • A mild look into the culture and traditions of China in the 1880’s

Why you shouldn’t read it:

  • I wish Curry had decided to either use easy-to-decipher Chinese phrases or not included them at all. The inclusion of the foreign phrases seemed forced and unnecessary.
  • It is not a story that would leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling. Not to be used as a pick-me-up.