2018 Jul 6
The year is 1881. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left an orphan, alone and unprotected. For seven silver coins, she is sold to a brothel-keeper and subjected to the worst of human nature. 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 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.
The story of Jinhua has been told repeatedly in China, making her a legend, even to this day. The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry illustrates her vivid life in the way it might have been, with some fictional stretches, yet based around what we know of her true history. The novel shines light on areas of Chinese history that much of contemporary Western literature has not previously explored, including the wars, the brutal practice of foot binding, and the relationship between China and the West.
The Courtesan does not hold back in any form, and certain sections may indeed be tough to stomach. Yet, the raw honesty of the story and curiousity to know what happens in Jinhua’s life will keep you reading. For fans of historical fiction, this is a perfect read. Curry’s style of writing is unique and fits the story perfectly. The Courtesan is both enlightening, entertaining, and a great read!