Reviews

Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In her latest historical novel, Pulitzer Prize winner Chase-Riboud (Sally Hemings) tells the story of Sarah Baartman, a member of the Khoe Khoe (or Hottentot) people of South Africa. As a young servant, she is taken to London by her Afrikaner master to be displayed in freak shows. Of interest are her ritually enlarged genitals and buttocks, which are large by European standards. Later in France, she continues to draw the prurient and is studied by scientists, who proclaim Sarah to be less than human. After her untimely death, her body is dissected and her skeleton displayed. Chase-Riboud creates a personality for Sarah, adding a few details to the available evidence but staying close to the known facts. Although she successfully illustrates the horrific racism of European imperialism, the novel suffers from a number of flaws. The characters are flat, there are annoying inconsistencies of detail in the narration, and Chase-Riboud hammers away at a point long after she has established it. In addition, Sarah's postmortem revenge against both the guilty and the innocent fails to further the aims of the story and do justice to the memory of this deeply wronged individual and her people. Nevertheless, public libraries should purchase this novel because it brings attention to a tragic historical figure and the attempted genocide of her people. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/03.]-Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

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 2003 Booklist


Publishers Weekly
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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. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Both a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and the author of four historical novels, including Sally Hemmings, Chase-Riboud limns the life of Sarah Baartman, born in South Africa in 1790 and exploited throughout Europe as the "Hottentot Venus." (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.