COURTESAN by Dora Levy Mossanen
September 17, 2005
Amazon Rating: 4/5 stars
The story of three generations of French prostitutes, COURTESAN is the love story between a Persian jeweler and the daughter and granddaughter of French courtesans, who only wants to find love.
Simone is part of a legacy spanning three generations of expensive courtesans living in Paris. Simone, however, does not have plans to follow in her mother and grandmother's footsteps. Madame Gabrielle, the matriarch of the family, is very disappointed but tries to convince Simone to follow in the family trade by introducing Simone to a Persian jeweler, whose expertise is in red diamonds. Unfortunately for Gabrielle, Simone and Cyrus fall in love and marry. To escape her family's disappointment in her, they move to the mountains of Tehran where they live in peace and happiness.
While the book starts out as a romance, it soon takes on the feel of a mystery, when Cyrus disappears and is presumed dead, and Simone tries to put the pieces together and find her husband's murderers. The center of the mystery is the red diamonds, and Simone believes that he knew something about these diamonds that endangered his life.
While part of COURTESAN focuses on the mystery of the red diamonds and Cyrus's disappearance and probable murder, the other important theme is the family origins of the Honore' family. The reader will learn, through Gabrielle's letters to Simone, the truth about their family, and what Gabrielle tried to hide from her daughter and granddaughter for all those years. In turn, a few of the characters in the book are not who they claim to be, and by the end of the story, the reader will fully understand Gabrielle's epic-like story and how her life as a courtesan came to be.
I enjoyed COURTESAN, but not as much as I loved her debut, HAREM, which I felt, was better written. Despite having said that, I do recommend COURTESAN for lovers of historical fiction. I will definitely read her next novel, whatever it may be.
on September 22, 2005
The author of HAREM, Dora Levy Mossanen's latest work is COURTESAN, which, like her previous novel, focuses on the theme of professional seduction and sex. COURTESAN's protagonists are three women from three different generations: Madame Gabrielle, the matriarch and grandmother of the d'Honore family; Gabrielle's daughter, Francoise; and Simone, Francoise's daughter. Both Gabrielle and Francoise are courtesans --- high-priced French prostitutes. They're wealthy and powerful and have been in bed with many wealthy and powerful men. Simone, however, is repulsed by this life and believes in true love. Gabrielle tries her best to convince Simone otherwise, introducing Simone to her world by persuading a Persian jeweler to be Simone's first experience. Unfortunately for Gabrielle, Simone and Cyrus fall in love, marry, and move away to Tehran against Gabrielle's wishes.
The first half of the novel reads like a romance. The focus then shifts to Cyrus and his work with red diamonds. There is a mystery associated with these diamonds, as Cyrus thinks he's discovered something that is illegal and tries to determine what it is. When he disappears and is thought to be dead, Simone goes into mourning but is then determined to find out what happened to Cyrus --- and eventually finds herself in the middle of this mystery.
Cyrus courted Simone with red diamonds when he first met her, and he also wore a red diamond in his ear. The diamonds are central to their story, but at the same time Simone's need to be her own person and not the courtesan her mother and grandmother want her to be drives the story.
The shifts in time Mossanen employed throughout the book were not to my liking as they were choppy and without rhythm, but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. What I found most pleasurable were the characters and backdrop of the story. 1900s Persia and Paris offer a romantic setting amid the world of the wealthy courtesans. Madame Gabrielle, with her ability to speak to spirits, was especially fun to read about. She has all sorts of wonderfully interesting dead spirits hanging around her, including Franz Liszt and Oscar Wilde, and they can be found floating under her armpits and sitting on her breasts, giving advice or commentary. Very lighthearted bantering goes back and forth between Gabrielle and her many old lovers --- some long gone, others only recently deceased.
The character of Simone stood out because she's strong and not afraid to defy her family's "heritage." The most riveting part for me was learning about the true history of Simone's family and the fact that Gabrielle had hidden from her daughter and granddaughter their real identity and where they came from.
What Mossanen does best in her books is detail beautiful historically romantic settings and describe characters in such a way that they all come to life as on the big screen. Her stories span long periods and her characters' lives are based on history, but there is always that touch of the spirit world that sneaks into her stories. While COURTESAN could have used more structure, it was enjoyable and I'm looking forward to more of Mossanen's work.
--- Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton [...]
on April 25, 2016
At times so very good that you think this is awesome writing; at other times the writing is so pedestrian you have to plow through it. Based on the reviews (professional) I expected and anticipated something special. This was a bit better than average.
on February 22, 2009
The characters were poorly written, and Simone never spends enough time or thought with any other character to make it believeable or to make us care. (including her husband, as they fall instantly in love, they move away, he gets shot.) I've read other books with quick pacing, but here everything is just too convienient, there is no real struggle, and I couldn't believe any of it.
There are also weird devices like her grandmother having spirits of her past (dead) loves hiding in her armpit, cleavage ect. who talk to her, or sing loudly and distract her thoughts. What was that about? I found it extremely annoying and distracting.
It was ultimately a dissapointment, because the setting deserved a better story. Can't say I'll be looking for any more of Ms. Mossanen's work.
on July 19, 2014
My follow up read to Dora Levy Mossanen's Harem. Another interesting read and what I like about Mossanen's writing is the extensive research that goes into the setting, characters and historical events. Not as strong a work as Harem but that is often the case with authors. One can count on Mossanen to include a myriad of sexual details including the mores and practices of the time given the topic of the lives of there females set in a time when courtesans were much valued and rewarded for their sexual abilities. A fascinating look at time and culture among Jewish and Muslin characters in Persia and Paris.
on February 16, 2013
I don't know where to start and I don't have time to do an editor's job--although she should have hired a couple of them. Reads like a bad self-published vanity book written by a woman who makes love with the lights off. The characters are never developed, there is no ending and most of the references in French are incorrect. Olfactory references grossly overused in comparison to other senses. The author should keep her nails well manicured and off the keyboard. I gave it one star because this feature will not allow the reviewer to give ZERO STAR... LOUSY!!!
on August 20, 2005
This marvellous novel is a lush, romantic symphony in which "the clatter of faraway hooves," and "the rumble of carriage wheels," provide the percussive background for period settings, intriguing characters, and the pursuit of red diamonds. A "lust-tinged air" is present throughout an abundance of such rare, magical scenes, as when stallions are attacked by fireflies, and a lemon drink "laced with darkling beetles" is prescribed to enhance memory. Levy-Mossanen's breathtaking descriptions fulfill all the senses and leave nothing to be desired. COURTESAN is fiction at its most artistically satisfying and intellectually transporting.
on June 27, 2005
If you're looking for a great summer read of the lush variety, I recommend "Courtesan", by Dora Levy Mossanen. I was a big fan of her first novel ("Harem"), and eagerly awaited this second book. Now that it's here (I got my hands on an advanced copy!), I am eager to sing its praises to both individuals and book clubs (it has a book club guide at the back of the novel, and I have recommended to my own club coordinator that we tackle "Courtesan" next).
GENRE: Historical fiction, very lush, very well-researched, some magical realism (Mossanen has been called a Persian Isabel Allende)
PLOT (no real spoilers contained below): Courtesan, like Harem, follows three generations of Jewish women. It is set primarily in late 1800s France and Persia. The matriarch of the family, Madame Gabrielle, transformed herself from a rabbi's daughter stuck in a ghetto to France's foremost courtesan. She spends her time speaking with the spirits of past lovers (an array of famous French artistes, politicians, and philosophers), maintaining her magnificent chateau (places and settings play a huge role in the novel -- from the chateau to the famous bed that hosts the womens' exploits), and scheming ways of convincing her granddaughter, Simone, to conform with the family profession. In this novel, courtesanship is not prostitution, but a respectable, lucrative, and indeed empowering profession (the women use their minds more than their bodies).
Gabrielle's daughter is Francoise, who is somewhat vapid by design but with good reason (I won't spoil anything by telling you why). Her daughter, Simone, is the true hero of the novel. The focus is on her search for identity, for love, and for reconciling the demands that society places upon her (everyone wants a piece of her, partly because her skin emits incredible scents and perfumes) with her desire for independence. Her quest takes her to Persia, South Africa, and finally back to Paris. Mossanen, who is Persian by descent though she was born in Israel, does some of her finest writing in describing the travails Simone faces when she follows her true love to that country. (Harem was set in Persia.)
An interesting subplot involves the international diamond trade, especially the trade in red diamonds. I will not say too much here for fear of spoiling some of the book's best surprises. Just know that this novel is much more than a romance book (you might even dispute that it is a romance novel)...there is a murder, a mystery, and it all involves international finance and the neverending quest for perfect diamonds.
GENDER APPEAL: Though I suspect that the majority of readers will be female, the book has much to offer to male readers. There are very compelling male characters (Cyrus, the Shah's jeweler and a major love interest; Alphonse, a Persian butler with a secret role, etc.) As a male reader, I was especially into the mystery aspect of the novel, which marvelously supplements the lush and exotic (and even erotic) main plot.
STRENGTHS: Gorgeous, lyrical writing; vivid characters who stay with you after you put the book down, magnificent settings in three intriguing historical locales (1800s Paris, Persia, and South Africa); a surprisingly suspenseful plot.
WEAKNESSES: The book does jump back and forth quite a bit in both time and location (from Persia to Paris and back again). I did not find the jumps confusing, because there is a consistency of characters and the jumps are well signposted at the beginning of the chapters. Yet there were a couple times that I regretted a jump because I wanted to know the outcome of a subplot sooner rather than later!
OVERALL RATING: I give this second novel a 5 out of 5, because Mossanen has managed to tell another fascinating, magical, engaging tale in a way familiar to readers of her first novel, but with new elements. If you loved Harem, you will love Courtesan. And if you haven't read Harem, you will find Courtesan a great introduction to Mossanen's beautiful writing.
on April 13, 2006
I just finished this book and was glad to be done with it. While the locales were exotic and intriguing enough to keep me reading, the writing was uneven at best, almost as thought it was a bad translation or something. Im not sure a better editor could have helped it. The author jumped from locale to locale in a jilting way and most of the relationships were never believable. It is my understanding that her first novel 'Harem' was critically acclaimed but having read this one first I won't bother with Harem.
on June 12, 2014
I enjoyed this book, but I do not feel it was of the same caliber as Harem. It was a pleasant read, but it did not offer as much excitement. I plan on reading her more recent books this summer.