Monday, October 26, 2015

Review: The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

Title: The Courtesan
Author: Alexandra Curry
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Dutton
Publish Date: September 8, 2015
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "The year is 1881. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left an orphan, alone and unprotected after her mandarin father’s summary execution for the crime of speaking the truth. For seven silver coins, she is sold to a brothel-keeper and subjected to the worst of human nature. Will the private ritual that is her father’s legacy and the wise friendship of the crippled brothel maid be enough to sustain her? 

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--as Emissary to the foreign devil nations of Prussia, Austro-Hungary, and Russia--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. "

My Two Cents:

"The Courtesan" is a historical fiction about Sai Jinhua, a famous courtesan that lived during the Qing dynasty (late 1800s). Before reading this book, I was not familiar at all with her so I loved learning about a new-to-me historical figure. She has become a legend in China and it is easy to see why. From humble beginnings, she becomes a concubine to a diplomat who travels to Europe. This book covers China's difficult diplomacy with the Western World as well as how China was changing rapidly in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

This book covers a wide swath of time and I was torn between enjoying everything that the book covers and wishing that the story focused a little bit more on certain historical elements or certain parts of Jinhua's life. I did get a little lost because there are several sections in the book where the chapters skip a couple years and I found myself wondering about what was going on then. It left me feeling a bit disjointed.

The writing was pretty good. The book is written in third person present tense, which always takes me a little while to get used to. The beginning of the book covers Jinhua's childhood. It left me wondering when we were going to get more to the meat of the story as the opening was a little slow for me. The story picks up once Jinhua finally becomes a courtesan to the scholar. Overall, this was a fine introduction to a fascinating historical figure!


  1. Sounds very interesting! I like reading about periods that are less known to me. I'll have to put this one on my list.

    Kate @ Ex Libris

  2. Fascinating period and place. Cheers from Carole's Chatter


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