Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Courtesan-Alexandra Curry

Courtesan-Alexandra Curry

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 400
gender: F
nationality: Canada
year: 2015
novel

A fictional account of the life of the courtesan Sai Jinhua.

I was just unenthused. I've heard of Sai Jinhua a few times before and I adore that it's so difficult to really discuss her in polemics as she was so controversial during a period when women were not allowed to be so (What was she actually doing in the Boxer Revolution? The long succession of husbands. The alleged prostitute deaths...) but Curry didn't really do her justice. Instead this is a very simplified version of Jinhua's earlier life. I mean, I liked Jinhua in this book, she is a lively and curious character who tried to explore Vienna as much as she could given the constraints of women within Chinese culture (bound feet, subservience to men, etc) but it felt...sanitized? It seems odd to say sanitized when we're talking about a prostitute but Curry subverts Jinhua's actually quite messy and sordid history into a series of tropes we've all seen before-the mean/crude brothel owner, the ugly maid, the jealous chaste wife etc. Just as I was getting interested (the Boxer Revolution), the book ends, leaving me dissatisfied. Its opening scene, the beheading of a Mandarin, was my favorite part-it was fantastic and set a tone that the rest of the book did not continue. It's a nice book, kudos to Curry on avoiding the exotification of Chinese culture, and likely to be popular but to me doesn't stick out among its genre.

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