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Hottentot Venus: A Novel Paperback – November 9, 2004

4.1 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1810, Sarah Baartman sailed willingly from her home in South Africa to England with her English husband, believing that fame awaited her as an African dancing queen. Well, she certainly found fame. Based on the true story of a woman who was exhibited as part of a freak show in London's Piccadilly and upon her death at age 27 was publicly dissected in France, this novel by poet, sculptor and novelist Chase-Riboud (Sally Hemings) conveys Sarah's victimization so well that the reader is still cringing after the last page is turned. Sarah herself copes with the harsh reality of her husband's betrayal-she's essentially been sold into slavery-through denial and gin. Her best chance to escape comes when abolitionist Robert Wedderburn intervenes by bringing her contract before a judge in an attempt to rescue her. Sarah, however, won't go along with it, because she doesn't want to return to Good Hope, where her Khoekhoe tribe struggles against colonization. Wedderburn captures the reader's frustration when he tells Sarah: "You are the unwitting collaborator of your own exploitation, agent of your own dehumanization!" Indeed, there are many tough scenes to endure, as Europeans endlessly ridicule her body and elongated genitals (mutilated as part of a tribal ritual) and examine her as a scientific curiosity. What makes the story, and Sarah's life, more bearable are the tender scenes with Alice, Sarah's English governess who stays with her and truly cares for her. Kudos to Chase-Riboud for exploring this story of oppression and for humanizing a woman who was virtually regarded as an animal, according to the ideology of the day.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

As she did in her best-selling Sally Hemings (1979), Chase-Riboud dramatizes a true story. This time, she goes back to the Dutch colonies of 1810 to recount the life of Sarah Baartman, a South African woman who was coerced into becoming an exotic dancer by two parasitic men. Having already lost her family in the Dutch and English massacres, Sarah faced certain death by staying in South Africa. Unfortunately, her journey toward a better life results in another kind of exploitation--this time on the freak show circuit in London. Forced into a cage in African garb, which allows the crowd of onlookers to intimately inspect her body, Sarah is put on public display as an example of a primitive oddity. Sadly, the dehumanization of Sarah did not stop with her death. In 1816, her dissected body was exhibited in a French Museum. In 2002, after a long legal battle, her remains were finally laid to rest in South Africa. Praise to Chase-Riboud for her total immersion in the spirit of Sarah Baartman. Elsa Gaztambide
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 58502nd edition (November 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400032083
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032082
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mocha Girl VINE VOICE on January 6, 2005
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.
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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.
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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
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