The Courtesan

The Courtesan

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An astonishing debut novel inspired by the life of the legendary Qing dynasty courtesan, Sai Jinhua. The year is 1881, the era of Chinas humiliation at the hands of imperialist Europe. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left alone and unprotected, her life transformed after her mandarin fathers summary execution for the crime of speaking the truth. As an orphan, she endures the brutal logic of a brothel-keeper, who puts her to work as a so-called money tree, and she survives the worst of human nature with the friendship and wisdom of the crippled brothel maid. When an elegant but troubled scholar takes Jinhua as his concubine, she leaves both the trauma of brothel life and the comfort of friendship behind and encounters for the first time the tantalizing and elusive notion of “Great Love. She travels with her emissary husband to Europe and discovers there the mesmerizing strangeness, irresistible sensualities, and exotic possibilities of fin de si egravec le Vienna, while struggling against the constraints of tradition and her husbands wishes. Sai Jinhua is an altered woman when she returns to a changed and changing China, where a terrible clash of East and West is brewing, and where her western sympathies will ultimately threaten not only her own survival but the survival of those who are most dear to her. The Courtesan is a timeless tale of friendship and sacrifice, temptation and redemption; the story of a woman's journey to discern what is real and abiding, and a book that shines a small light on the large history of China's relations with the West.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781622319602
Publisher: HighBridge Company
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Emily Woo Zeller's multilingual, multicultural framework led to a natural fit as an audiobook narrator. While she specializes in Asian American narratives, Emily's work spans a broad spectrum, including young adult fiction. She won an AudioFile Earphones Award for her narration of Gulp by Mary Roach.

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The Courtesan: A Novel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed it & wanted to keep reading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Read!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wiliam_Maltese More than 1 year ago
AN ENGAGING PEEK BEHIND THE BAMBOO CURTAIN Definitely, I needed a break from all the formula mystery and spy novels I’ve been reading lately, finding too many of them pretty much as I remembered the ones that came before them. THE COURTESAN was just the change I needed by way of a shift in gears, being a book to remind me of how few books I’ve actually read about China and its history. Based upon the life of a real woman who lived at the ending of China’s Qing Dynasty, this book’s based-on character has been written about so often, so many tales and stories told about her, many of them contradictory, that it was pretty much up to the author to interpret fact from fiction. Jinhua is left an orphan, is sold to a brothel, becomes the concubine of a very important man in Chinese politics, ends up in Vienna, Austria-Hungry, hobnobbing with the Empress Elisabeth, and returns to China, and Peking, in time for the infamous Boxer Rebellion. The author weaves a fascinating little tale against the backdrop of China emerging from self-imposed isolation, not always by choice, and juxtaposes how each side, East and West, deems the other “barbarian”. All the while, the so-often repeated conflict between Christianity and the other religions of the world plays its part in the action. If I have any complaint, it’s that large chunks of the story are left out, providing transitions that are less smooth and less informative than they might have been. That said, though, I found THE COURTESAN well worth my time and effort and would especially recommend it to others who know very little about China which is looming ever larger, in these modern times, on our horizons.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Able to take you to a land far away
Mirella More than 1 year ago
Review by Mirella Patzer - The exotic setting of old China has always fascinated me. This novel is set in the Qing Dynasty of the 1880's and opens with the execution of 7 year old Sai Jinhua's father. Her mother was a concubine who died in childbirth. Her father remarried, but he has been executed for political reasons. Unwanted, Jinhua's stepmother sells her to a brothel where she will live until she is old enough to begin work as a prostitute. The life there is very harsh and Sai Jinhau is subjected to having her feet bound. At twelve, Sai Jinhua loses her innocence and joins the other prostitues in their work. The novel follows her life and her rise when she is sold to Hong, a Chinese Diplomat who is beguiled by her resemblance to his first wife who committed suicide. Together, they travel to Vienna where Jinhua is a novelty. There, she experiences freedom and knowledge and gains self-confidence. But Hong dislikes her newfound strength and empowermentis and more and more he keeps her locked away from society. Nicely researched, I thought the complexities of the Qing Dynasty were aptly described. The early life of this poor orphan who faced such horrendous circumstances was fascinating. I found the first half of the book unputdownable, and the pace slowed a bit thereafter, and I became a bit detached from the story. Some of the magic was lost, but the story still held my interest enough to get to the ending. A nice novel that swept me into a time and a world of long ago. A fascinating woman of history indeed! Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
AvidReaderREE More than 1 year ago
I was given an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review. When I read the description of the novel I was very excited, it sounded really interesting and I love historical fiction based on a real person and the book started off quite well and then just....blah. At one point in the novel there was a dramatic time shift and it took a while for me to figure out if it had been 3 years or 10 years, and that's a LOT of time to have just skipped over. The author sort of covered what kind of happened during the huge time block, but not enough to satisfy my curiosity. And then the last bit from the huge time gap on was just difficult to read and not enjoyable at all. This became a very difficult novel to finish. The novel started off with so much promise and was likened to Memoirs of a Geisha (which is AMAZING) but then this was just a disappointment. What makes it even worse is I feel like the description given of the novel is false and then the author's note at the end of the novel also points to the historical figure and how the author could have taken the story this or that direction because of so many conflicting historical accounts...but the author didn't take it any of those ways! The book became boring and I feel if the author had followed more of her author's note or even the description of the novel this would have been much more enjoyable. Big disappointment.
April_E More than 1 year ago
Barnes and Nobles had this book in their new Author section, the cover caught my eye and the first page caught my interest. I have a lot of amazing things to say about this book; however, the most profound is that the author did not fetishize the life of this courtesan. The book is shocking, believable, and represents the pain of not having choice. This is a book for true feminist who fight for women to have choices, to not be owned, and a reminder of the mutilation women bear for the sake of aesthetics, tradition, and culture. I wasn't expecting Alexandra, but I'm glad this book caught my eye!
gaele More than 1 year ago
Sai Jinhua is a legendary figure in Chinese history, but like many who have attained legend-level popular knowledge, the truth of the life takes second stage to the stories that are perpetuated. Alexandra Curry attempts to use research and imagination to tie Jinhua’s life together from childhood and taking knowledge of the time, practices and attitudes to ‘fill out’ her story. With larger and more important details true to the history, the personality and friendships give this story life, and breathe humanity into a figure, and creating an intriguing read in the process. Told in multiple parts, this book reads more as snapshots in time around important milestones, not all the pieces flow neatly together as such, but the end result is a fairly comprehensive picture of a life: friendships, growth, and personal power all are solidly depicted in each section, and we see how Jinhua came to incorporate the truths that often varied with place and company. From heartbreaking and occasionally hard to read moments early in her story, to a less obvious sort of heartbreak and disillusionment with life, until her death. With several unanswered questions, there are gaps in her story that may trouble readers: this is not a story that ends with “and they all lived happily ever after”. Life, particularly the one lived by Jinhua is complicated and complex, and it isn’t always necessary to give every minute detail, real or imagined. Taken as a snapshot, each section provides a small glimpse into the life, but in no way provides a full picture. Most notable is the lack of options for all women in China, and while her travels did allow her to see and reach for something more, and the conflicts that created for a woman who’s life took so many unexpected and often fortuitous turns. This is a very intriguing, if not breezy read, it will take you through several moments, years, places and events. But, the story is worth the time invested if you are a fan of historic fiction, and promises wonderful things to come from this debut author. I received an eARC copy of the title from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
jeanniezelos More than 1 year ago
  The Courtesan,  Alexandra Curry Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews Genre:  Literature/Fiction Adult. I’ve read some fabulous historical books about life for girls in Japan and China. Initially this reminded me a few of them and I really enjoyed the first half. Its a fictional account of the life of a real person, based loosely around events that did happen to her. Once Jinhua married though it lost some of the attraction for me, odd as I thought the travel part would be an area I’d enjoy, but the book just lost much of the magic it had, the have to keep reading even though events are grim and shocking. The early part is tough, harsh, cruel and at times very emotional. I felt for poor Jinhua, traded off to a brothel at just seven years old, to endure years of harsh training, and the horrors of foot binding even though she’s past the age it’s usually done. Its something that always shocks me, how parents put their girls through such pain, supposedly loving them and yet allowing their bones to be broken so the foot could be “reshaped,” and the growth stunted to produce tiny three inch long feet,( four inches in western measurement) revered by Chinese men of the time and a sign of a Lady, someone who couldn’t do any manual work of course because of her feet. Horrifically cruel and yet if they didn’t do it then the girls would grow up shunned for ugly feet, not make good marriages and end up in a life of poverty. Weird how we humans are didn’t really die out until the early 1900’s. Anyway, there’s poor Jinhua. gone from having a father who adored her, who is killed on a moments whim by order of a child emperor, and that changes her whole life. We see how she gets sold, trained as a “money tree”, how tough her life became and how her only friend was the maid Suyin. Suyin also had her feet bound when she was older, and in her case it went wrong and left her with permanent deformities and a limp, so she’s only fit for life as a maid, someone to be beaten when Lao Mama, the house owner, loses her temper and can’t hit one of the girls in case she marks them. The friendship that developed between Suyin and Jinhua was very real, when both the girls had no-one else. Again it reminded me of scenes in other books. They were living in an intense situation, and neither had anyone else, and I could feel just how close they were. This early part was my favourite, despite how horrific some of it was, how causal life was treated – it echoes reality of those times ( and probably now too in some places) I felt very close to Jinhua and her situation, but as she grew older and that changed the story just lost its magic for me. Stars: three, that early part felt very real but somehow as it went on I felt detached from the story and became less and less interested in Jinhua’s predicaments.  ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers. If you enjoyed my review I'd love it if you would please click “Like” and if you didn't I'd love to know why, in case I've inadvertently added a spoiler and need to edit.