In 1810, Sarah Baartman sailed willingly from her home in South Africa to England with her English husband, believing that fame awaited her as an African dancing queen. Well, she certainly found fame. Based on the true story of a woman who was exhibited as part of a freak show in London's Piccadilly and upon her death at age 27 was publicly dissected in France, this novel by poet, sculptor and novelist Chase-Riboud (Sally Hemings) conveys Sarah's victimization so well that the reader is still cringing after the last page is turned. Sarah herself copes with the harsh reality of her husband's betrayal-she's essentially been sold into slavery-through denial and gin. Her best chance to escape comes when abolitionist Robert Wedderburn intervenes by bringing her contract before a judge in an attempt to rescue her. Sarah, however, won't go along with it, because she doesn't want to return to Good Hope, where her Khoekhoe tribe struggles against colonization. Wedderburn captures the reader's frustration when he tells Sarah: "You are the unwitting collaborator of your own exploitation, agent of your own dehumanization!" Indeed, there are many tough scenes to endure, as Europeans endlessly ridicule her body and elongated genitals (mutilated as part of a tribal ritual) and examine her as a scientific curiosity. What makes the story, and Sarah's life, more bearable are the tender scenes with Alice, Sarah's English governess who stays with her and truly cares for her. Kudos to Chase-Riboud for exploring this story of oppression and for humanizing a woman who was virtually regarded as an animal, according to the ideology of the day.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
As she did in her best-selling Sally Hemings (1979), Chase-Riboud dramatizes a true story. This time, she goes back to the Dutch colonies of 1810 to recount the life of Sarah Baartman, a South African woman who was coerced into becoming an exotic dancer by two parasitic men. Having already lost her family in the Dutch and English massacres, Sarah faced certain death by staying in South Africa. Unfortunately, her journey toward a better life results in another kind of exploitation--this time on the freak show circuit in London. Forced into a cage in African garb, which allows the crowd of onlookers to intimately inspect her body, Sarah is put on public display as an example of a primitive oddity. Sadly, the dehumanization of Sarah did not stop with her death. In 1816, her dissected body was exhibited in a French Museum. In 2002, after a long legal battle, her remains were finally laid to rest in South Africa. Praise to Chase-Riboud for her total immersion in the spirit of Sarah Baartman. Elsa Gaztambide
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..this book should be on the reading list in every high school,how else are we to change the cruelty and racism that is inflicted and promoted by governments down thru history,the... Read morePublished on July 4 2004 by Me
I stayed up late last night finishing a truly tremendously fine book: Hottentot Venus by Barbara Chase-Riboud. Read morePublished on June 25 2004 by KatPanama
Hottenton Venus was quite superb! What a depressing part of history to know that this South African woman Sarah Baartman was victimized emotionally, physically and fiancially, by... Read morePublished on May 19 2004 by Therese Madison
Barbara Chase-Riboud delivers a truly extraordinary piece of fiction based on the true story of Sarah Baartman dubbed the Hottentot Venus. Read morePublished on Jan. 13 2004 by njeri214
It's an embarrassment to humankind that this is based on a true story. Barbara Chase-Riboud must have spent years just doing research to write this, and it really shows. Read morePublished on Jan. 9 2004
Chase-Riboud's narrative about Sarah Bartman a.k.a the Hottentot Venus is compelling reading. Bartman's story was completely unknown to me. Now she is unforgettable. Read morePublished on Jan. 5 2004
The Hottentot Venus was a wonderful book, one that pulled me in and had me sneaking reading time whenever possible. Read morePublished on Jan. 4 2004 by "avidreadeer"
Wonderful book that was rich in detail and humanity. Yes the book is written without quotations and for some readers this seems to be proving difficult. Read morePublished on Dec 24 2003