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The Hottentot Venus: The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman: Born 1789 - Buried 2002 Paperback – 17 Mar 2008


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (17 Mar. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747592845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747592846
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 64,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Holmes' biography of this unhappy woman is gripping and meticulously researched' Spectator 'A significant and timely book ... Holmes has produced a laceratingly powerful story. Saartjie Baartman has found the perfect biographer' Frances Wilson, Literary Review 'Musters as much factual information as possible, telling her tale with care and respect' Independent 'Impeccable ... In telling her extraordinary story, Holmes's fascinating book illuminates the forces which dominated her age, and resound in our own' Sunday Telegraph

About the Author

Rachel Holmes was educated in South Africa and England. From 1991 to 1998 she held lectureships in English at Queen Mary College, University of London and the University of Sussex. In 1998 she became part of the launch team of amazon.co.uk, where she was website manager until 2002. Her first book, Scanty Particulars: The Life of Dr James Barry, was published to critical acclaim in 2002. She is currently writing a life of Eleanor Marx. A broadcaster, columnist and reviewer, she is director of Friends of TAC, the organisation that supports the Treatment Action Campaign in the fight for HIV and AIDS in South Africa.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. N. Smith on 4 May 2007
Format: Hardcover
A beautifully written text, this book is a prize for any bookshelf. Rachel Holmes has succeeded once again in blending impeccable research with delightful prose; and when combined, invites the reader into a different place, a different time, a different viewpoint...at first, we are at one with the indigenous population of South Africa, following a story of domestic drudgery and bad luck - suddenly we are ripped from our comfort zone and introduced to a freak-obsessed showcase London - profit wins over protection and a lifetime of servitude makes itself abundantly clear to our subject, Saartjie Baartman. She reacts to her new surroundings accordingly and that is what makes her story all the more poignant.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Twa Young on 23 May 2009
Format: Paperback
Two sets of human attributes are most fascinating to us. The first are
those which we believe we share with others and so enhance our common
humanity. The second, and more dangerous, and those which we believe
show up our differences, and help us to define ourselves, both as
groups and as individuals. Those differences sometimes give grist to
primitive and irrational racism.

Sartjie Baartman was a young Koisan (the current non-racist word used
for people formerly known as Hottentots and bushmen) woman born in the
1790s into the serving classes in Cape Town in the important and
remote trading teritory of Dutch/British South Africa. She was very
pretty and had a most enormous and, for Europe, unusual steatopygic bottom. She was brought to London and exhibited as a kind of freak show. She went on to Paris, and died there around 1815.

In London, anti-slavery campaigners had agitated for her human rights; in Paris she was seen as of scientific interest, and eventually dehumanised. Following her early death, she became a specimen on the shelves of a Paris museum. Following South Africa's renaissance under Mr Mandela, he requestedthat her remains be returned to her native country, which they duly were, and there she has achieved a mother-of-the-nation status.

Rachel Holmes' book starts with the historical background of Sartjie's
origins in Cape Town and follows her journeys to London and Paris and
her final return home to modern South Africa. The book is highly
readable and authoritative, not sparing in criticism of the
absurdities of the European scientists of the era nor of the details
of Saartje's short and tragic life. Read it and weep.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book struck me as somewhat amateur in that Holmes insists on being incredibly presumptuous about Baartman's thoughts and feelings throughout the text, such as 'for earthbound Saartjie, sailing...must have been an experience filled with mystery, physical discomfort and fear'.

The conundrum of figures such as Baartman is that she has been represented and rerepresented in a range of roles and her voice has been misappropriated repeatedly, yet as she left behind her no first hand accounts of her life, it is difficult to do anything but mould her to how you wish to present 'The Hottentot Venus'. Holmes seemed to me to romanticise her experiences to build up a tragic heroine for her story.

If, like me, you prefer a more factual account of her life, I would recommend Crais and Scully 'Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography' instead.
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By Lunafior on 10 Nov. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a really fabulous book, a gripping read, and a great study on many levels, whether the history of South Africa, London in the eighteenth century or just man's humanity/inhumanity to man (and I include woman in that generalisation), perhaps borne out of fascination and curiosity. Highly recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This story brought tears to my eyes. This young ... 25 Oct. 2014
By Gwenda Naylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This story brought tears to my eyes. This young slave woman's struggles to keep her dignity was most admirable.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Five Stars 3 Nov. 2014
By Victoria Y. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Interesting reading
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