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Hottentot Venus (Vintage) Paperback – Nov 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books; Reprint edition (Nov. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400032083
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032082
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 108,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By "phyllisrhodes16" on 14 Jan. 2004
Format: Hardcover
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. A distortion on the image of Venus as the goddess of love and beauty, Saartijie was heralded as the missing link between man and apes – thus propelling her as an atrocity to be gawked upon, repulsed and pitied by Victorian England and France.
Saartjie’s experience in England lands her in a famous legal case in which abolitionists took her “partners” to court insisting that Saartjie was enslaved and working against her will. She, being an illiterate person, testified that she had signed a written contract with her “partners” and was being fairly compensated; however considering she died in poverty, the contract (if it truly existed) is highly questionable.
Immediately upon death at age 27 from complications caused by alcoholism, syphilis, and tuberculosis, Saartjie’s body was sold and dissected to prove the theory that she was indeed the missing link and not human. Her remains (death caste, full skeleton, and prized “apron”) were callously displayed and stored in a Paris museum for nearly 200 years and were only recently returned to her native South Africa for burial in 2002.
Chase-Riboud’s in depth research and careful reconstruction of Saartjie’s world is superb!
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By Nicola F (Nic) TOP 500 REVIEWER on 17 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback
Cruel in its intensity and at times shocking, this is the fictionalised account of Sarah Baartman, an African colonist who was taken from her home in Good Hope in the 1800's and paraded in a Piccadilly freak show exhibition at the tender age of twenty.

After suffering loss, unhappiness and misery in her own country, what the girl was subjected to in London was even worse. Sarah became the epitome of ugliness, taunted for her genital `apron' and prominent backside. As the first so-called `Hottentot' to set foot on British soil, Sarah became an object of sensation- and not only because of her race- but also one of ridicule. She was used by those she trusted yet was unable to return to her home country because there was nothing there for her there, either.

This book recounts her tale in stunningly vivid detail- the author has clearly done her research into the time period and brings Sarah, her surroundings and her peers to life. At times heartbreaking, but always brave and shocking, the story thankfully does not get too bogged down in scientific detail or try to be too overzealous with facts.

A brilliant, thought-provoking read that really does leave you wondering about the potential for ignorance and cruelty inside every human being.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 23 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A Wonderful Work of Historical Fiction! 6 Jan. 2005
By Pretty Brown Girl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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. A distortion on the image of Venus as the goddess of love and beauty, Saartijie was heralded as the missing link between man and apes - thus propelling her as an atrocity to be gawked upon, repulsed and pitied by Victorian England and France.

Saartjie's experience in England lands her in a famous legal case in which abolitionists took her "partners" to court insisting that Saartjie was enslaved and working against her will. She, being an illiterate person, testified that she had signed a written contract with her "partners" and was being fairly compensated; however considering she died in poverty, the contract (if it truly existed) is highly questionable.

Immediately upon death at age 27 from complications caused by alcoholism, syphilis, and tuberculosis, Saartjie's body was sold and dissected to prove the theory that she was indeed the missing link and not human. Her remains (death caste, full skeleton, and prized "apron") were callously displayed and stored in a Paris museum for nearly 200 years and were only recently returned to her native South Africa for burial in 2002.

Chase-Riboud's in depth research and careful reconstruction of Saartjie's world is superb! The novel is lengthy, detailed and descriptive. It has a Victorian flair to it - especially in the passages where in depth dialogue is used to convey the Englishmen's misguided, racists thoughts of the time. The author's imagination fills in the gaps and gives Saartjie a resonant voice that transcends time. A true work of historical fiction as it references the French Revolution, American Civil War, and historical figures like Jane Austen, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Charles Darwin. The reader empathizes with Saartjie, all the while pulling for justice to be served for her. This is a touching novel - one that will stay with the reader well after the last page is turned.

Reviewed by Phyllis

APOOO BookClub

Nubian Circle Book Club
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Some incorrect data in publisher's weekly 4 Mar. 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I am writing this to make some corrections to both information presented in Hottentot Venus, as well as, publisher's weekly review presented on Sarah Baartman. The first being her name, which was not Sarah, but in Saaratji Baatman. Secondly, her genitalia were not mutilated or elongated by tribal ritual, along with her more than rotund posterior. These attributes are quite common of Sanid peoples (indeginous peoples of southern africans, hottentots (deragatory term), bushmen), or more specifically of Khoisan peoples of which the "hottentots" are a part. These attributes are what led to the fascination by europeaners because they were natural among these peoples, not tribal ritual, not mutilations, simple genitics. In fact, there exists a medical term for the more pronounced posteriors ,steatopygia, found in these people. Furthermore, the elongated genitalia was simply the elongation of the labia minora, such that they extend beyond the length of labia majoria, however, among the Khoisans it was very pronounced such that the length could be several inches beyond the majora.
The truth is that all women of all ethnicities from Europeaner's to African's to ... to varying degrees can be genetically disposed to such attributes such as steatopygia to elongated minora, it was just far more common among the Khoisan. But, I just wanted to point out this wasn't due to mutilation or tribal ritual. Also, whether Baartman left of her own accord or not, is open to debate, I doubt to many people would willingly enslave themselves and certainly not to the extent that Saaratji endured, this was after all still the years of atlantic slave trade.
Irony is that although women have been victimized and sexually exploited especially black women, and in fact, and always portrayed as inferior, saraatji's attributes were most desirable to men. From the full lips to the more than ample curves. In fact, dresses of her day with their extended posteriors were directly correlated with the enhancing of those sexual attributes, curves, as possessed by Saaratji to make females more attractives in the eyes of males. An odd nuisance which is most baffling, claimed inferiority, yet exactly what was artificially created and desired? It's sad. In short, Hottento Venus, portrays to an extent the Story of Saaratji with a few fallacies, however, what should be gathered from this novel, a greater sense of saaratji's victimization and exploitation, is well conveyed.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
True Account of Ninteenth-century Racism 17 Jan. 2004
By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
During the early 1800's Sarah, a South African Khoekhoe tribal woman(degradingly refered to as Hottentots), witnesses the salughter and displacement of her people by European settlers. In desperation, she leaves her home to seek a new life in the city of Cape Town. However, the only thing that awaits her there are menial jobs with slave-like conditions, physical and emotional abuse. Alone and easily seduced, Sarah willingly leaves South Africa for the promise of love, fame and fortune in Europe. Sarah was told she would become rich as an African dancing queen. However, her white companions had another agenda in mind for her. For it was her unique bodyshape(manipulated by tribal rituals), of extremly protrudding buttocks and genitals described as an "apron", is what her white caregivers wanted to exploit. Finding herself in Europe touted as a "freak", caged and naked, for all who pays to see, she is billed as the "HOTTENTOT VENUS". What ensues is a tale that spans seven years in a life that is filled with broken promises, rascism, suffering, and hearbreak.
Barbara Chase-Riboud brings to life the heartwrenching tale of Sarah Baartman by combining factual, historical data with gripping story telling. In HOTTENTOT VENUS, Chase-Riboud steps back in time to the ninteenth-century and recreates a world steeped in sexism, and the ideal of European superiority. Told in the voice of several of the main characters against the backdrop of slums, courtrooms and medical facilities the reader is emmersed in the thoughts and attitudes of the day. There are shockingly vivid scences describing what Sarah endures that will leave readers angry and sadden. However, the ending will give a since of long overdue justice for Sarah. A truly haunting read, one that will stay with you long after the book is read. I recommend the novel to all.
Reviewed by L. Raven James
of The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Do not miss reading this finest-kind novel 25 Jun. 2004
By KatPanama - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I stayed up late last night finishing a truly tremendously fine book: Hottentot Venus by Barbara Chase-Riboud. It's definitely in the do-not-miss category and is very close to being best book of the year (so far).
Sometimes a novel can be too heavily loaded with detail but, in this one, the superb writing and language balance perfectly the detail. The book evokes its time (1789-1820 or so) richly and satisfyingly with a story that is more than a match for the times and the writing. To my eye, there's only one misstep and, likely, others wouldn't find it so.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
an amazing book 5 July 2004
By Me - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
..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 story of sexism is most painful as you become aware that society today is still staring at its "venus" in the form of many young and spiritual girls and women today,in all countries of the world...the authors style is brave as she takes us from murder to our lonely Sarah shopping for beloved gloves and thru a death journey that is poetic in its justice.......please read this and urge others to
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