It is Paris, 1815. An extraordinarily shaped South African girl known as the Hottentot Venus, dressed only in feathers and beads, swings from a crystal chandelier in the duchess of Berry's ballroom. Below her, the audience shouts insults and pornographic obscenities. Among these spectators is Napoleon's physician and the most famous naturalist in Europe, the Baron George Cuvier, whose encounter with her will inspire a theory of race that will change European science forever.
Evoking the grand tradition of such monster tales as Frankenstein and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Barbara Chase Riboud, prize-winning author of the classic Sally Hemings, again gives voice to an invisible of history. In this powerful saga, Sarah Baartman, for more than 200 years known only as the mysterious lady in the glass cage, comes vividly and unforgettably to life.
About the Author
Barbara Chase-Riboud is a Carl Sandburg Prize-winning poet and the prize-winning author of four acclaimed, widely translated historical novels, the bestselling Sally Hemings, Valide: A Novel of the Harem, Echo of Lions (about the Amistad mutiny), and The President's Daughter. She is a winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and received a knighthood in arts and letters from the French government in 1996. Chase-Riboud is also a renowned sculptor whose award-winning monuments grace Lower Manhattan. She is a rare living artist honored with a personal exhibition, "The Monument Drawings," in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Born and raised in Philadelphia, of Canadian American descent, she is the recipient of numerous fellowships and honorary degrees. She divides her time among Paris, Rome and the United States.
“Sweeping, kaleidoscopic . . . A hauntingly compelling tale.” —Los Angeles Times
“Barbara Chase-Riboud should be praised for attempting such a difficult and important story. . . . She creates some horribly memorable scenes.” --The New York Times Book Review
“A bravura act of outrage and grace . . . written with shattering passion.” —The Boston Globe
“Disturbing and heartbreaking. . . . Illustrates how racial cruelty can be tightly wrapped in a shroud of scientific reason.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A splendid epic of a young woman’s life that later became a country’s touchstone. . . . Rescues this human being from her ‘freakish’ place in history and gives her life the respect it deserves.” —The Times-Picayune
“[Hottentot Venus] conjures the pain of some of the most sensitive and hurtful relations between the powerful and the powerless whatever their color, whatever their gender. . . . In this chilling and mournful novel, Chase-Riboud brings back to life a woman whose existence as a symbol has obscured her essence.” –The Washington Post
“Ultimately Hottentot Venus is about resurrection. For through the novel, Barbara Chase-Riboud has restored Sarah Baartman’s life, her name, her voice, her humanity.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Baartman’s brief, eventful saga is chronicled in harrowing factual and fictional detail in Chase-Riboud’s well-researched, unsparing book.” –Seattle Times
“Barbara Chase-Riboud, best known as the author of Sally Hemings tackles another hot-button historical incident in Hottentot Venus.” –Essence
“Barbara Chase-Riboud’s extraordinary novel recovers this riveting story of cultural voyeurism and physical cruelty with unblinking historical verisimilitude, ennobling pathos, and unerring narrative pace. This is an important book that lodges in the conscience like a nacre.” –David Levering-Lewis, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963
“Chase-Riboud plunges right into Baartman’s ambivalent heart and conjures up a character who is sharp, winning and true.” –The Plain Dealer
“Praise to Chase-Riboud for her total immersion in the spirit of Sarah Baartman.” –Booklist
“An extraordinary book by an extraordinary woman. . . . By virtue of beautiful pacing and writing, the novel is an exalting experience for the reader; and it rises to such heights at the end, that we experience a true epiphany. Like Beloved and Cry the Beloved Country, this book is essential.” –Carolyn Kizer, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Yin
“Chase-Riboud’s talent is the ability to write historical fiction that is meticulously detailed, descriptive and imagines the internal geography of those she writes about. . . . Persuasive, heartbreaking.” –Black Issues Book Review
“Expertly recreates Baartman’s spirit. . . . Chase-Riboud [is] a savvy documentarian and powerful storyteller.” –The San Diego Union Tribune
“A compelling story about racism and sexism and European imperialism, a story about the cruelty of curiosity that, in the end, should force many people to take a long hard look at themselves.” –Ebony