THE COURTESAN

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - BOOKS - BY ALEXAN­DRA CURRY, ALLEN & UNWIN.

This spin on the well­doc­u­mented story of Sai Jin­hua, courtesan at the time of Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi, circa 1881, is a de­light­ful rein­ven­tion of a wo­man whose life was steeped in mys­tery. The au­thor’s em­bel­lish­ments only add to those Jin­hua gave her­self, as she made a jour­ney from China to Europe as con­cu­bine to Hong Jun, Chi­nese en­voy. The au­thor be­gins by whisk­ing us to seven-year old Jin­hua’s house, on the day her fa­ther has been be­headed. She’s sold for six sil­ver coins, as her feet are un­bound. At her new home, her feet are bro­ken and bound, mak­ing the child a more at­trac­tive com­mod­ity. Clever, strong and kind, Jin­hua learns a vir­gin courtesan’s role: how to moan and ex­hale. The sec­ond half of the book trans­ports us to Vi­enna, where “women bind waists in­stead of feet”. Alexan­dra Curry fills our hearts with Jin­hua’s hope for a new life, as “for the first time… she feels happy and hardly afraid at all”.

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