SYNOPSIS: A new telling of the life of Sai Jinhua starting with when she was a young girl and moving up through her life as a courtesan.
It is rare to find historical fiction books about real women that aren’t European in nature, so I was excited to receive this book! I had never heard of Sai Jinhua before I got this novel, but now I want to learn more about here. I know I’m reading good historical fiction when I become more interested in the subject. From preliminary research, I have discovered that some people paint her as a devil woman and others as a strong heroine and in this book I would say that she is shown to be a human. I also gathered that the book is more fiction than history (like Don Bluth’s Anastasia).
It was also interesting to read about the process of foot binding (which is practically the Chinese equivalent of wearing a corset). I have a lot of knowledge about corsets, but very little about foot binding because I was too chicken to find out how it was done. From the description in the book, it sounds very painful and it’s upsetting to me to think about how many young girls had to undergo the procedure and deal with it for the rest of their lives. One of the things that I really enjoyed were Jinhua’s close relationships with Suyin and Resi and how they deeply affected her and meant something. It was nice to see that she had female role models to guide her into her new worlds instead of having a male guide that tends to be the norm in fish out of water stories. I also enjoyed how respectful Empress Sisi was toward Jinhua and her Chinese customs. I enjoy reading about people embracing other cultures and respecting traditions and practices instead of defaming them and calling them barbaric. Curry did a wonderful job a weaving a wonderful story that takes you by the hand and leads you gently through its words. I wouldn’t call this book an exciting page turner, but there is something about the way that Curry relates Sai Jinhua’s story that makes you want to keep going.
The only thing that gets really confusing is that some of the dialogue is in quotations that dialogue is normally in and some is in italics. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it and I think it would have been better to either do all dialogue in italics or none at all. All the dialogue being in italics I feel would have heightened the poetic nature of the story that Curry seems to have hinted at in her explanation of how the story will be divided. I also didn’t like the abrupt time jump toward the end of the book. I wanted to see Jinhua’s journey to that part in her life and the flashbacks to catch us up didn’t really satisfy me and felt that the ending didn’t have the drama that it was trying to achieve with the Boxer Rebellion. It felt too tame, but it was still a nice happily ever after. Overall I enjoyed this novel and feel that I learned something new about a period in history that I don’t know very much about.
Thanks Dutton for allowing me to read this book! Buy your copy today here!