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Hottentot Venus: A Novel (2004)

Hottentot Venus: A Novel (2004)

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3.68 of 5 Votes: 1
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1400032083 (ISBN13: 9781400032082)

About book Hottentot Venus: A Novel (2004)

I picked this book up a very long time ago at a bookstore that is now defunct. Chase-Riboud's novel tells the story of Sarah Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman who was exhibited as a freak show attraction in London and Paris in the early 1800s. I knew going in that this book was not going to be a fun read, and my expectations were fulfilled. Sarah's story is every bit as painful, horrifying, and gut wrenching as I feared it would be. But it also comes with a surprisingly hefty side dish of dull. I found myself skipping entire passages not because they were too gruesome to read, but because they were simply boring. Other reviewers have commented that it was difficult to follow the dialogue in this book. Much of my boredom can be traced to the dialogue. It was the weakest aspect of the narrative.First, instead of using quotation marks around her dialogue, Chase-Riboud starts off the dialogue paragraphs with a long dash. Turns out, punctuation matters. I got used to the substitution, but it still made the appearance of the story seem a little dull. Oh, look, it's another paragraph, that looks just like all the other paragraphs that came before it. Next time you open a book, notice how the quotation marks around the dialogue make the appearance of the text on the page just a little bit more interesting, and you'll see what I mean. That's a relatively trivial complaint, though. What was more difficult was the fact that Chase-Riboud only occasionally identified the speakers somewhere in the middle of that long-dashed paragraph of dialogue. More often, she didn't. I found myself pausing more than once to try to figure who was saying what. She also flouted the convention of having the next set of dialogue be from a different speaker. Often the next paragraph was more from the same speaker, but because she almost never told us that, I had to stop reading several times just to figure out who was talking. Not a huge break, not a large interruption, but still, it took me out of the story and anything that takes me out of the story gives me a chance to put the book down. Which I did. A lot. And each time, it was touch and go whether I'd pick it up again. Perhaps the most important issue, however, is the fact that Chase-Riboud frequently uses verbatim quotes from scientific writers of the time as if they were dialogue (most notably in Chapter 18, where the entire scientific debate during Baron Culvier's lecture on Sarah Baartman consists of verbatim quotes from Jefferson, Lincoln, Hegel, Darwin and other 19th C writers. I suspect she does the same during the trial in the London section of the book.) The quotes do present a wide range of horrifying thoughts on race prevalent in society at the time, which was likely Chase-Riboud's intent, but they don't work as dialogue. By burying the arguments of what was supposed to be an impassioned debate on the nature of race and humanity in the tangled English of Victorian academic writing, Chase-Riboud limits the power of her narrative.Her story would have been better served if she had taken the same quotes and edited them slightly to make them more believable when used as dialogue in a heated debate. All told, this was a good book, and it told the story of a woman whom I would otherwise likely never have heard of. The first and final chapters were extremely well-written. If only the middle had kept up.

This is a fabulous histographic metafictional recreation of the life of Saartjie Baartman from South Africa, a slave who travelled to England to be exhibited on account of her large steatopygia and elongated labia. Appealling to the Victorian obsession for freak shows (remember the Elephant Man), scientific enquiry (to support racist theory) and perverse sexual voyeurism, Saartjie is symbolic of the modern day beauty pageant which is a continuation of slave markets (bearing in mind in 1807 slavery was abolished). The irony is, what with 'Five' running the 'Extraordinary People' series, Saartjie's story is more relevant than ever and perpetuates the need for modern European society to feel racial, physically and biological superior. Shockingly, her body, preserved genitals and brain were displayed in a Paris museum until her remains were finaly repatriated to by buried with full respect in 2002. I was so horrified by her treatment that I will be writing a brief research paper on this shocking example of sexism and racism during imperial Britain.

Do You like book Hottentot Venus: A Novel (2004)?

I have nothing but praise for this work. It is poetic, brutal, and empathetic--a reflection of the arrogance of the time, ghosts of which are active among us today. I picked the novel up in hope of understanding what it means to be a minority, mistreated, and enslaved--despite declarations of enlightenment and a prohibition of slavery. I can see why sensitivity to prejudices needs to be maintained, lest we forget how calloused, cruel, greedy, and dreadful people can be towards one another. Kind souls shine brighter, but are not without their flaws. I highly recommend this novel, important, and tragic because the Hottentot Venus endured such a life.
—Chance Maree

Hottentot Venus is a wonderful work of historical fiction by Barbara Chase-Riboud surrounding the exploitation and short life of Saartjie "Sarah" Baartman. Saartjie was a South African herdswoman who was brought to England in 1810 and exhibited in a freak show for seven years as the "Hottentot Venus." She was exhibited in a cage partially covered in "native attire" where thousands came to view her protruding buttocks and elongated labia ("apron") - a symbol of beauty and desire by her tribesmen.
—Mocha Girl

The story line of Hottentot Venus was very good and an interesting read! However I did not care for the way in which Barbara Chase-Riboud used historical figures. She made great scientists like George Cuvier seem like a horny perverted obsessed man. She also would randomly throw in Napoleon Bonaparte, Jane Austin, and Charles Darwin. I think the author trying to make her novel a historical fiction would have worked out better if she relied on connecting historical events to her story and not giving knew personalities to famous people of the time. It would have made the book more believable and in my opinion more eye opening to the main characters situation. Also the writing style seemed mediocre. A lot of the time during dialogue you wouldnt know who was talking or when they would stop talking and start again. Over all though I really enjoyed the story and the look into the life of a young African woman who was sexually mistreated as well as morally mistreated. It was an emotional book as well not only for colored people but for women in general.

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