Hottentot Venus: A Novel

Hottentot Venus: A Novel

by Barbara Chase-Riboud
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Hottentot Venus: A Novel by Barbara Chase-Riboud

From the bestselling author of Sally Hemings comes an extraordinary new novel based on the true story of Sarah Baartman, a South African herdswoman exhibited as a "scientific curiosity" in the capitals of nineteenth-century Europe. [end box]

Barbara Chase-Riboud's previous historical novels won her critical praise and established her as a writer who daringly transforms the hidden truths of the past into compelling fiction. In Hottentot Venus, Chase-Riboud recounts the tragic life of Sarah Baartman, re-creating in vivid, shocking detail the racism and sexism at the heart of European imperialism.

Born in the colony of Good Hope, South Africa, in 1789, Sarah Baartman was taken to London at the age of twenty by an English surgeon, who promised her fame and fortune. Dubbed the "Hottentot Venus," she was paraded naked in Piccadilly in a freak-show exhibition and subjected to the unabashed stares and crude comments of the British public, which resulted in a sensational trial for her custody by British abolitionists. Soon afterward, however, Baartman's keeper – who may have been her husband – sold her to a French circus owner. In 1814, her new owner took her to Paris as part of an exotic animal circus to be displayed to French high society. Baartman endured unconscionable exploitation and cruelty as medical experts and leading scientists touted her as an example of primitive evolution because of her genital "apron" and her prominent buttocks.
In an unforgettable saga that ranges from Capetown to St. Helena to London to Paris and back to Africa, Chase-Riboud has fashioned a Dickensian evocation of this icon of scientificracism, whose body, sex, and brain were exploited, examined, and dissected to become a synonym of ugliness and brutality — the absolute negation of European beauty, which even today taints our Western concepts of humanity. Sarah, the tragic heroine, evokes nineteenth-century novels of the "other" such as Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Nigger of the Narcissus.
In Hottentot Venus, Barbara Chase-Riboud evokes this strange and moving story in the voices of Baartman and her contemporaries, combining years of research with the sensitivity and perceptions of a masterful storyteller to bring the story to life. Like Chang and Eng and the author's own Sally Hemings and Echo of Lions, HOTTENTOT VENUS is a powerful, stark portrayal of the harsh realities of race—a stunning look at the cruelty of curiosity, colonialism, and its twenty-first century consequences.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385508568
Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/04/2003
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.48(h) x 1.14(d)

About the Author

BARBARA CHASE-RIBOUD is a Carl Sandberg Prize–winning poet and the prizewinning author of four acclaimed, widely translated historical novels, the bestselling Sally Hemings, Valide: A Novel of a Harem, Echo of Lions (about the Amistad mutiny), and The President’s Daughter, a prequel to Sally Hemings. She is a winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and received a knighthood in arts and letters from the French government in 1996. Chase-Riboud is also a renowned sculptor whose award-winning monuments grace Lower Manhattan. She is the rare living artist honored with a personal exhibition, “The Monument Drawings,” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Born and raised in Philadelphia of Canadian American descent, she was educated at Yale University and is the recipient of numerous fellowships and honorary degrees. She divides her time between Paris, Rome, and the United States.


Paris, France

Date of Birth:

June 26, 1939

Place of Birth:

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


B.F.A. from Temple University; M.A. in art and architecture from Yale University

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Hottentot Venus 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LeahEHarris More than 1 year ago
Barbara Chase-Riboud was already one of my favorite authors for her two novels Valide and Sally Hemmings, so I already had the expectation of the story being well researched and engaging, but it is Barbara's uncanny ability to spin an historical event into emotionally engrossing drama without a doubt exceeded my all my expectations! Barbara carves out for you a personal experience in her writing, I found myself lost as much in Saartie's happiness as I did in her despair.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good book but the reader should be familiar with Saartjie Baartman's story before reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago