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While the body of Sara Baartman (1789-1815), also known as the "Hottentot Venus," has been the subject of intense Western scrutiny (she was regarded as a "paradoxical freak of race and sexuality, both alluring and primitive") and exploitation to the point of postmortem dissection, little is known about her life beyond her careers as sideshow exhibit and posthumous icon for a variety of causes, from artifact repatriation to the evils of science. Crais (The Politics of Evil) and Scully (Liberating the Family) chase down obscure references to Baartman's life in South Africa and discover a rich if difficult life: a woman who loved and lost and traveled farther (from Cambedoo and Cape Town to London and Paris) than many of her peers. Her life personifies the shames of colonialism, slavery and gender persecution, but Baartman showed too much independence to be reduced to mere victim or symbol ("The more iconic Sara Baartman became, the more she stood for a range of causes, the less complicated her past became"). The authors dig deep into the limited remaining evidence but the biography wears its research lightly, a backdrop to this well-written and fascinating story of a woman who remains an elusive figure. (Dec.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.