The Courtesan: A Novel In Six Parts

The Courtesan: A Novel In Six Parts

Paperback | September 8, 2015

byAlexandra Curry

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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 China's humiliation at the hands of imperialist Europe. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left alone and unprotected, her life transformed after her mandarin father's 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 siècle Vienna, while struggling against the constraints of tradition and her husband's 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.

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The Courtesan: A Novel In Six Parts

Paperback | September 8, 2015
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$15.48 online $24.95 (save 37%)

From the Publisher

An astonishing debut novel inspired by the life of the legendary Qing dynasty courtesan, Sai Jinhua.     The year is 1881, the era of China's humiliation at the hands of imperialist Europe. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left alone and unprotected, her life transformed after her mandarin father's summary execution for the crime of speaking t...

ALEXANDRA GAMBRILL CURRY was born in Shawinigan, Quebec of Austrian and British parents. She grew up in Montreal and has lived in Asia, Europe, and the United States. She now lives in Atlanta with her husband and dog, and has two sons. The Courtesan is her first novel.

other books by Alexandra Curry

The Courtesan
The Courtesan

Audio Book (CD)|Sep 8 2015

$44.14 online$45.50list price
Format:PaperbackDimensions:400 pages, 8.98 × 6 × 1.09 inPublished:September 8, 2015Publisher:Penguin CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143197592

ISBN - 13:9780143197591

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Extra Content

Bookclub Guide

1. At the beginning of the book, the executioner recalls that his mother said, “A single happiness can scatter a thousand sorrows” (p. 6). Do you think Jinhua believes that? Do you?2. Jinhua’s Baba teaches her the Three Obediences (p. 9). Are you surprised that he does so given his progressiveness in regard to not allowing her feet to be bound? Does the knowledge of the obediences serve her well in her life?3. Jinhua loses everything material from her past life, but quickly realizes that Lao Mama can’t stop her “from thinking what she thinks inside her head” (p. 62). However she also comes to see later on that “she is not the person she is pretending to be. She is someone else entirely” (p. 139). Are there ever times when Jinhua is herself? If so, when are those moments and why?4. Jinhua and Suyin are both trapped and yet their experiences are so different in many ways, especially after Jinhua leaves the brothel. Why do you think the two form such a close and lasting bond?5. In the scene in which Lao Mama reflects on how she’s rescued the six girls working for her (p. 110) and thinks of them as daughters, even as herself (p. 112), this harsh character is revealed to be more complex than at first suggested. How truthful do you think Lao Mama is being in that scene?6. Toward the end of the book, Jinhua asks Suyin if they’re like Lao Mama. Do you believe they are like her or are they different? If so, how?7. The fortune teller tells Jinhua that she will lead many lives (p. 141). Is that true? Is that true of most people as they go through life?8. Wenqing says, “There are factions at court who say we must change ourselves in order to emerge victorious (p. 178)—” Is change or reinvention Jinhua’s special gift? What other gifts does she have?9. Why do you think Jinhua clings so long to thoughts of Count Alfred von Waldersee and her day with him?10. The telling of stories is a form of escape for both Jinhua and Suyin, but at the end of the novel it is also a trap. Why is Jinhua so reluctant to see the truth of what Suyin is saying re the danger they face in Peking regarding the Boxers and the coming rebellion?11. Throughout the novel, there are references to the duality of life and the contrasts that it presents, something that is summed up in what the fortuneteller says of Jinhua: “She will remember too long and forget too quickly… She will see, and she will be blind. She will lose her way, and if she is lucky she will find it” (p. 141). How does this represent the struggles that Jinhua has faced and will come to face? Is this true of life in general?12. The novel purports to “shine a small light on the large history of China’s relations with the West.” What is the relevance of this illumination to today’s world and to today’s East-West dynamic? Does the historical context matter, and if so, why?

Editorial Reviews

"Curry offers a fascinating glimpse into China at the moment foreign influences are sweeping through the country. Narrated from various characters’ points of view, this is not only the story of Jinhua but that of China itself. Highly recommended for fans of Lisa See and Amy Tan."–Library Journal (starred review)“Alexandra Curry has a rare talent for bringing the past alive. The story of Jinhua, a little girl sold into prostitution, unfolds against the backdrop of the Boxer Rebellion. It is a wonderful story, told with fairy tale simplicity and no-holds-barred gritty detail. As the story of Jinhua unfolds the reader is swept along, asking herself will there ever be a moment of peace and harmony for this engaging heroine? –Roberta Rich, bestselling author of The Harem Midwife and The Midwife of Venice   “In her sweeping novel, Alexandra Curry breathes new life into a worthy historical heroine and the unfathomably tumultuous life she led. The Courtesan is a raw, vibrant, and moving tale of love and loss, war and splendor, and the inspiring leading lady who navigates it all, surviving against the odds while also preserving her pure heart and unshakable human decency.” –Allison Pataki, bestselling author of The Accidental Empress   “A sweeping epic set in a forgotten time, The Courtesan is a beautiful, enchanting book. Full of scandal and intrigue, Curry takes us from Vienna to Peking, from an enchanted girlhood home to the innermost rooms of a brothel to the halls of imperial power. Masterfully told, exquisitely detailed, The Courtesan is a tale I won't soon forget.” –Anton DiSclafani, bestselling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls   “The Courtesan is the best kind of historical fiction—lyrical, sweeping, powered by an extraordinary heroine and extraordinary, world-changing events. Meticulously researched and mesmerizingly poetic, It is the kind of novel that tumbles us effortlessly into the past, in the process reminding us why that past is so important—because in the end, it is separated from our present by the very thinnest of membranes.” –Jennifer Cody Epstein, internationally bestselling author of The Painter from Shanghai