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African Queen: The Real Life of the…

African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus

by Rachel Holmes

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4.5 stars. While in some instances the prose gets a little dry, and the author delves into politics, the reality is Saartje Baartman WAS used as a political symbol, probably more than she was appreciated as a living woman - in England, South Africa, France, and today, worldwide. She was taken (willingly?) from her homeland and fetishized for white Europeans who saw her to represent dark and dangerous African sexuality, with her big booty and (presumed) elongated labia, but she may not have been a helpless victim after all, as she is often portrayed.

Book jacket says the author divides her time between London and Cape Town, so was in the perfect position to do local research for most of the important events of Saartje's life, and the degree of research was impressive.

I loved getting the details about Saartjie's stage costume - including the fact that she was NOT nude, the in-depth look at the relationships in her life and her family background. If you are interested in this woman, based on a clip you've seen on TV or a story floating the internet, this book is well worth a read. ( )
  writerbeverly | May 1, 2014 |
Holmes is a South African academic, so the treatment is scholarly, restrained in tone, careful to stick only to the facts. Which is fine, because the story is so horrific that the bald facts she can dig up--there are a lot of gaps--tell us enough.

I don't give it a five star for two reasons that might bother few others.

Holmes seems a bit naive re Saartjie's relationship with her first two handlers.

I also think we need some more historical and political context of southern Africa at the time. How many were slaves or had been been? Saartjie, though forced from her homeland, orphaned and widowed by Europeans, ends up in Cape Town as a servant--bonded, maybe?--not a slave. Who became a slave and how difficult was it extricate oneself? (I know in the Americas it was much easier for a slave of the Spanish to work his way out than under the British.) The author mentions very much in passing some of the foreign-born slaves. Now, I know the "Malays," now known as Cape town Malays, were brought by the Dutch from Indonesia. Chinese were probably brought from what is now Taiwan. But she also mentions "Indochinese." for this period; this was new to me. Anybody know? ( )
  Periodista | Jan 14, 2009 |
excellent colonial revisioning, too light on the feminism ( )
  Kaethe | May 23, 2008 |
The story of Saartjie Baartman, a Khoisan (a people located in South Africa) women who was displayed throughout Europe for her "unusual" physique. Although the Saartjie's story is no doubt interesting and all together tragic, the book lacked detail and asked more questions than it could answer. ( )
  getupkid10 | Dec 29, 2007 |
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"Saartjie Baartman was twenty-one years old when she was taken from her native South Africa and shipped to London. Within weeks, she had made the headlines and become the talk of the social season of 1810, hailed as 'The Hottentot Venus' for her exquisite physique (not least her shapely and irresistible bottom) and suggestive semi-nude dance. As her fame spread to Paris, Saartjie became a lightning rod for late-Georgian and Napoleonic attitudes toward sex and race, exploitation and colonialism, prurience and science." "But celebrity brought unexpected consequences. Abolitionists initiated a High Court lawsuit to win Saartjie's freedom that electrified the English public. In Paris, a team of scientists subjected her to a humiliating ordeal as they probed the mystery of her sexual allure. Stared at, stripped, pinched, painted, worshipped and ridiculed, Saartjie came to symbolise the erotic obsession at the heart of colonialism. But behind the costumes, caricatures and the glare of publicity, this young Khoisan woman was a real person beginning to understand the true nature of her fate. Nearly two centuries after her death, Saattjie made headlines once again as Nelson Mandela launched an international campaign to have her remains returned to the land of her birth." "In this meticulously researched book, published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain and its dominions, the full arc of Saartjie's extraordinary life and death is traced for the first time - a story that still resonates today."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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