The Courtesan By Alexandra Curry

I received The Courtesan from First to Read (a Penguin program). It was published by Dutton in September of 2015.

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After her mother dies in childbirth and her father is executed, Sai Jinhua is sold to a brothel and expected to learn the art of pleasing and pleasuring men. Along with many other young girls, she is repeatedly and brutally taken advantage of. However, one day, a gentleman comes and tells Jinhua that she was his lover in a past life and proceeds to purchase her and install her as his concubine.

Although it isn’t obvious, The Courtesan is Alexandra Curry’s debut novel. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the gritty beginning of Sai Jinhua’s life as a Chinese courtesan (cross between a geisha and a prostitute). While her story starts out a lot like Memoirs of a Geishaan excellent book in its own rightThe Courtesan quickly establishes itself as something quite different.

I can thankfully say that even though Jinhua is married young and taken to grand places, this book is by NO MEANS a sweeping romance–and thank goodness for that. Half the fun of the novel is the underlying bitterness that comes with Jinhua’s being sold as a child with no say in her future.  She does manage to steal some time to live her own life in Germany while her husband, a Chinese Emissary, is traveling in order to make contacts and secure alliances for China. Her desire to understand and feel love is her most endearing trait. Because of this desire and a strong sense of curiosity, she refuses to stay indoors as her husband commands.

Through learning German and exploring, Jinhua builds her reputation and legacy. So, while Curry’s novel is neither completely fictional nor completely historical, it is a wonderful tale about a girl thrown into another culture, another world, and her determination to do what is right, even if it tears her world apart. I may not be able to relate to the brutality that Sai Jinhua endures, but her desire to understand love and her need to choose her own path resonates deeply.

TITLE: The Courtesan
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AUTHOR: Alexandra Curry
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PAGES: 400
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ALSO WROTE: Nothing, yet!
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SORT OF LIKE: Memoirs of a Geisha, Dreams of Joy
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FIRST LINE: It is the Hour of the Snake, a time of day when the sun works hard to warm the earth.

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