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 sometimes…it 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.
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