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African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  190 ratings  ·  39 reviews
Saartjie Baartman was twenty-one years old when she was taken from her native South Africa and shipped to London. Within weeks, the striking African beauty was the talk of the social season of 1810–hailed as “the Hottentot Venus” for her exquisite physique and suggestive semi-nude dance. As her fame spread to Paris, Saartjie became a lightning rod for late Georgian and Nap ...more
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published March 25th 2009 by Random House (first published January 8th 2008)
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May 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
A well-done and well-researched biography/history of Saartijie Baartman, the so called Hottentot Venus from South Africa, it tells her whole tragic story and how she was exploited both during and after her lifetime. The book was a bit graphic at times, especially in reference to the obsession of 19th century scientists to sexualize the African female as proof of white supremacy, and their demanding to see her nude (which she never willingly did while she was alive). I did find it interesting tha ...more
Emma (Miss Print)
May 03, 2007 rated it liked it
The Hottentot Venus exhibit--promising to present a rare African woman from the Hottentot region for public view--opened in London in 1810 to an expectant audience waiting to see the new curiosity otherwise known as Saartjie ("Saar-key") Baartman. Saartjie's skills as a performer combined with her particularly large buttocks and allusions to her supposedly extended labia only added to the exhibit's appeal to rich (white) Londoners.

According to Rachel Holmes, author of "African Queen:
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
page 58 on 4/30/18
Alicia Fox
Sep 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The life of Saartjie Baartman is fascinating. If you're a casual reader of interesting histories, you'll probably like this.

My problem with the prose is as a snotty former history major. There's far too much sermonizing. Amidst all of the author's yammering on about reestablishing Baartman's humanity, she failed to realize that she was using Baartman for her own feminist symbolism. This is minor, though, compared to the author's failure to understand much of the time and people under
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All That Poses As Science Is Sometimes Much Less and Much Worse

I stumbled across this book in looking up the meaning of the term “Hottentot.” It tells the story of Saartjie Baartman, aka “The Hottentot Venus,” of her short life, her pre- and post-mortem exploitation, and how it took her over two hundred years to finally get home to South Africa. Anyone who thinks that racism has a scientific basis should read this book. By the end of it, the sophisticated early 19th-century Londoners and Par
Miko Lee
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 18, 2014 rated it liked it
It is horrible history, a story that needs to be told and heard. Rachel Holmes sums it up quite well exposing the social construct of race and the use of vulnerable individuals by scientists, politicians and pedlars for their personal gain. And as usual we never learn from history. She has probably sacrificed an imaginative narrative for factual accuracy, nevertheless it is a good read.
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a book I had to read fast and it's comparatively short at 116 pages (not counting the footnotes). But it's a story that will stay with me. It's the story of Saartjie Baartman, who became famous as "the Hottentot Venus" in London in the early 19th Century. Saartjie was a member of the Khoisan tribe of the Cape Colony in present-day South Africa. These were the people called "Hottentots" by the Dutch settlers who colonized South Africa (and who were called the "Boers" or farmers). Saartji ...more
Aug 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in South African history
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well written. Sensitive. Deeply tries to humanize a woman who spent her whole life and afterlife being dehumanized.
Louise Pennington
This book comes in a 109 paged. It is good with Holmes trademark snipes at The Establishment, which are always excellent. It would have been an excellent book if it were even a 100 pages later with more focus on Baartman’s life in South Africa and a more detailed deconstruction of the political and racialised misogynistic abuse of Baartman’s body after her untimely death. I left this book wanting more.

This is an important book but Holmes’s biography of Eleanor Marx is better.
Ron Zack
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sad Historical Story

“African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus” by Rachel Holmes is a well-researched, factual account of an amazing, though distressing story. Saartjie Baartman, the woman who became known as the Hottentot Venus, was descended from the eastern Cape Khoisan people of South Africa. During the colonial period, she was taken to Britain in 1810 where she performed, playing a musical instrument called a ramkie, and danced and sang - but mainly was displayed to sh
Apr 18, 2018 rated it liked it
The information is very good, and the tale of Saartje Baartman is interesting, but the book slips between an academic and informal tone more or less randomly.
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
A nicely done history. I very much liked how the writer remained concise, focusing on Sarrtje's life and providing context without including tons of filler. A fascinating, very sad story that puts a human face on colonialism.
Patriña Vagalume
Nov 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story you must read...
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Interesting but I didn't enjoy the writing as much as I had hoped.
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Borrowed this particular book from local library and was both fascinated and horrified by the ballant racism that Sarah endured in her life and worse yet in death.
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent Rendition of what was possibly Saartjie's life although, heart wrenching towards the conclusion. The writer imposing her own political thoughts towards the end and trying to align her mission against the government stance, took away from the book what could have been a powerful ending.
Apr 01, 2016 rated it liked it
"The illuminated auditorium enabled Saartjie to see her audience almost aw well as they could see her."

"All our defenders, our brothers, our lovers, all perished, and we unfortunate victims who did not die were tightly bound, and were taken away by the evildoers, far from our beloved forests, and driven, with a thousand insults, onto floating trees, where we saw nothing but the sea and the clouds."

"She saw African and Indian men in European suits; white women in brightly
Beverly Diehl
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 ...more
Jul 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
The story of the Saartjie Barrtman exhibited in England as the Hottentot Venus. A women from the Eastern Cape of South Africa, exploited by one of her own countrymen and a British showman. Even in death, her body was treated with disrespect. One would like to say events like this would never happen today, but unfortunately, the exploitation of the female body for financial gain occurs each and everyday. Woman hold the key to stopping it. We have the power, but do we know it? This woman only expe ...more
John Gaudet
May 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The casual reader might be put off by the slow start -- the author has to establish the historical base and lay out many details, BUT once into the story it quickly gets to the heart of the matter, exploitation, de facto or otherwise, of a black African female. Not a pretty topic, but when it's handled as it is here by a sympathetic writer it becomes a fascinating story and a memorial to the heroine, Saartjie Baartman.
Apr 24, 2016 rated it liked it
I gave three stars because there is so much information that is not known about Saartjie Baartman. This is no fault of the author. I commend her for writing this important book about a tragic life of a African Woman manipulated by a group of White Supremacist intent on proving she was a specimen to be exhibited like a circus animal on a stage.
Feb 14, 2008 rated it liked it
The amount of subject matter was a little thin to justify a whole book, but it would make a good magazine article. There was this part near the end where they talked about women's body images, ideal body images and the irony of this woman's life and the fixation with her body type that was really interesting.
Apr 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Interesting but sad story of a woman taken from her home country and put on display in London 200 years ago. The author does an excellent job of explaining the social and cultural whims of the period and reactions of from different parts of society toward Saartjie Baartman (whether it be a reaction to Baartman's physical appearance or a reaction to a woman being put on display).
A very interesting topic, and, even though it's super short, I still got tremendously bored. I read this as a personal challenge to read as many books from MPL's black
history month reading list as possible.
Thierry Sagnier
Truly one of the odder books around about Ms. Baartman, the female equivalent of the Elephant Man.
Dec 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Show and abuse, putting people on display for amusement, reflection on the times in Africa and London.
Sally Anne
Nov 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Excellent story, quite neatly written. Sad as hell. Definitely worth a read, just not the kind of thing that, for me, moves around the higher stars.
Mar 15, 2008 rated it liked it
Interesting story. A short, kind of simple, history.
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Rachel Holmes’ new book, Eleanor Marx: A Life is published by Bloomsbury on 8 May 2014, described by Golden PEN Award winner Gillian Slovo as “a dazzling account of a woman and her family, an age and a movement, that grips from the first page to the last.”

Holmes is also the author of The Hottentot Venus: The life and death of Saartjie Baartman (Bloomsbury) and The Secret Life of Dr Jam