A timeless novel inspired by the legendary real-life Chinese courtesan Sai Jinhua-an extraordinary woman who bridged two worlds in the twilight decades of the Qing dynasty, a tumultuous era of East meets West.
The year is 1881. Seven-year-old Jinhua is left an orphan, alone and unprotected after her mandarin father's summary execution for the crime of speaking the truth. For seven silver coins, she is sold to a brothel-keeper and subjected to the worst of human nature.
When an elegant but troubled scholar takes Jinhua as his concubine, she enters the close world of his jealous first wife. Yet it is Jinhua who accompanies him-as emissary to the foreign devil nations of Prussia, Austria-Hungary, and Russia-on an exotic journey to Vienna. As he struggles to play his part in China's early, blundering diplomatic engagement with the Western world, Jinhua's eyes and heart are opened to the irresistible possibilities of a place that is mesmerizing and strange, where she will struggle against the constraints of tradition and her husband's authority and seek to find "Great Love."
Sai Jinhua is an altered woman when she returns to a changed and changing China, where a dangerous clash of cultures pits East against West. As the Boxer Rebellion brews and finally breaks, Jinhua's Western sympathies will threaten not only her own survival but the survival of those who are most dear to her.
An authentic and beautifully written portrait of China's relationship with the West, the story of the incredible Sai Jinhua, told the way it might have been, is not to be forgotten.
Praise for The Courtesan
"It's hard to believe The Courtesan is a first novel as Curry masterfully weaves a sweeping story that crosses time and continents."-Associated Press
"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)
"The smooth-as-silk prose, flavored with details of Chinese customs and Jinhua's favorite mythological stories, heightens the sense that we're hearing a legend retold...this creative and haunting interpretation spurs interest in the real Sai Jinhua."-Booklist
"Brightly detailed story of a woman's efforts to be 'curious and virtuous and wise' despite the oppressive forces surrounding her."-Kirkus Reviews
"[A] literary novel that exquisitely describes Jinhua's amazing transformation from a naïve child to a glamorous, intelligent, strong, and adventurous woman who blends the best of traditional and modern China and Europe...The best historical novel I have read this year!"-Historical Novel Society
"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
"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