The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

The Courtesan Alexandra Curry

Rating: 1 Star ★☆☆☆☆

It is the Hour of the Snake, a time of day when the sun works hard to warm the earth.


The year is 1881, the era of China’s humiliation at the hands of imperialist Europe. Seven-year-old Sai Jinhua is left alone and unprotected, her life transformed after her mandarin father’s summary execution for the crime of speaking the truth.

Now an orphan, Jinhua is sold to a brothel and put to work as a ‘money tree’, enduring the very worst of human nature thanks to the friendship and wisdom of the crippled brothel maid.

But when an elegant but troubled scholar takes Jinhua as his concubine, her world begins to expand. With him she will travel to Vienna, seeing things she has never imagined, and opening her heart to dreams she has never dared to dream . . .


I went into this book expecting the fascinating story of a prostitute turned courtesan turned cosmopolitan. Instead, I struggled tremendously even finishing the book.

The main problem is the style. It didn’t work for me at all. It was too convoluted, too sappy, too confusing. At times I wondered if the book had seen an editor.

Where she go and where you go now not same. Not same at all like emperor’s palace” – the go-between pauses, looking around, and Jinhua can’t stop staring at the wart on her eye that wobbles when the go-between blinks – “not same like emperor’s palace and pot for shitting. Not same like this place and that thing or that place and this thing.

Then there’s the insertion of words in the original language: Chinese, German, French, even Latin. It didn’t make sense at all and honestly, just seemed like showing off.

The other problem, probably due to the style, was that I didn’t connect with the characters at all. In theory, Jinhua is an interesting character. She loses everyone she loved at a young age, is sold into prostitution, then to her husband. Despite all that, she is inquisitive and open to new experiences.

But that’s only in theory. I didn’t connect with her at all. She’s even… boring. Things happen to her, but she never actively plays a role. And yes, I get it, she’s trapped and it’s not like she has many options, but even her thoughts are passive.

“Is the virgin courtesan afraid of me – or not?”

Jinhua’s every bone is tight with fear. It is hot in the room, and Banker Chang is looking at her hun shen shang xia – from head to show – and she is twelve years old or close enough, Lao Mama says.

Also, the book is full of weird time-jumps. The most glaring is a jump between Jinhua’s time in Vienna and then being back in China. In the middle something happened. After all, she ran away from her husband and opened a brother in Peking to wait for her German lover. But were they lovers? We don’t know because that whole part doesn’t exist in this book.

Overall, this just wasn’t my kind of book. I didn’t like the style, I didn’t like the characters and the story was weak. I had to force myself to finish it.


Unfortunately, the style just wasn’t my cup of tea


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