Author: Alexandra Curry
Type: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Alexandra Curry’s new novel The Courtesan is a beautifully written fictionalized account of the courtesan, Sai Jinhua. In reality, not much is known about Sai Jinhua, who lived towards the end of China’s Qing dynasty. The reader is first introduced to the young Sai Jinhua in 1881 at the age of seven when she is orphaned following her father’s execution for the crime of having spoken the truth. Left at the mercy of her step-mother, Sai is sold for a mere seven coins to a brothel-keeper who subsequently introduces her to the horrors of human nature. From a painful binding experience, to her first sexual encounter, Sai comforts herself by sharing stories with her only friend at the brothel, brothel maid Suyin.
As Sai grows into a beautiful young woman, she is rescued from the brothel when Sub chancellor Hong, a troubled man, takes Sai as his concubine. Becoming Hong’s concubine not only rescues Sai from the painful life at the brothel, but introduces her to the Western world when she travels to Vienna where she meets the Austro-Hungarian Empress Elisabeth, “Sisi,” along with a European gentleman who captures her heart. From the streets of Vienna, to the streets of Peking during the Boxer Rebellion, Sai lives quite the extraordinary life.
I was fortunate enough to receive and advanced e-galley of this book as part of Penguin’s First to Read program and I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to review it. I loved this book not only for it’s beautiful writing but because it introduced me to an intriguing and mysterious historical figure. Ms. Curry has done a wonderful job of taking the basic legend of Sai Jinhua and creating a richly engaging story that pulls the reader in and makes them feel something for the young woman. I cringed while reading of about Sai’s foot binding experience, I too felt my heart soar when she fell in love for the first time in her life, and I too felt the fear and uncertainty of being in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion. Alexandra Curry has managed to write a thoroughly engaging historical fiction novel that makes me not only want to read more non-fiction in regards to the Boxer Rebellion, but more books by her in general. The strength and perseverance of Sai Jinhua is one that will both draw in readers and make her a long lasting literary character.
The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry, published by the Penguin Publishing Group, will be available for purchase on September 8, 2015