This fictionalized account of Sarah Baartman, the Hottentot Venus, is alternately told in her own voice and the voices of those who come in contact with her. Sarah was a member of the Khoekhoe tribe from South Africa. After her family was killed by Dutch hunters for sport, she became a servant in a Dutch household. Tricked into believing that an Englishman paid the bride price to become her husband, Sarah agreed to go with him to Europe in 1810 as his wife, where she was told she would become famous. Instead, she was displayed virtually naked at freak shows where members of her European audience often insulted and spat upon her. Sarah tried to escape her despair with the aid of gin and opium.
Barbara Chase-Riboud has once again written a poignant, meticulously researched novel to bring an outstanding historical character into public view. And what a view! As the Hottentot Venus is unclothed, she also strips the blinders of conventional history from our eyes. She damns the scientist and naturalist Cuvier and others like him with the evidence of their own words, as they arrogantly tell the world that this Hottentot Venus, Sarah Baartman, who speaks four languages, is not fully human. This is a powerful novel.