Review by Brenda Repland
The story of Sai Jinhua has been told before. She is a legend in China. At times, her story was banned; others, she was venerated.
Her story has been adulterated to the extent that it is impossible to know the truth. But Alexandra Curry imagines her tale in this novel.
She was born in Suzhou, in the last decades of the infamous Qing Dynasty, to a mandarin father. Her life of privilege would come to an abrupt end when her father is executed for the crime of speaking the truth. In a practice common to the very poor, she is sold to a brothel at the age of seven. Her psychological survival will depend on all the strength she can muster.
Years later, an unsettled scholar and Emissary to the Hapsburgs will take her as his concubine. She will accompany him to Vienna where it is she who grasps the art of diplomacy as China makes its first awkward attempts with the West.
Jinhua’s life will mesmerize and spark much food for thought.