by Dora Levy Mossanen
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Courtesan / 978-0-7432-4678-1
When I picked up Mossanen's "Courtesan" and "Harem" together at the local half price book store, I hadn't realized at the time that I could easily have just read "Harem" in order to get the salient contents of both stories.
"Courtesan" shares so many elements with "Harem" that the two books are almost functionally identical. Both books center around a multi-generational trio of women who are textbook Mary Sue characters. Grandmother, mother, and granddaughter all have implausibly-colored hair (azure blue, topaz yellow, and crimson red) and the author makes a big point of telling us that the carpet matches the drapes. Their eyes are equally implausibly colored as deep turquoise, slate gray, and golden yellow. These Jewish women serve as prostitutes to the local Persian gentry, and without any actual training they have managed to become world-renowned harlots; they even know the super-secret method to eunuch orgasms.
Incidentally, the ghosts of famous dead authors like to wallow in the big breasts and blue armpit hair of the matriarch of the family. I'm not making this up; I wish to god I was. In addition to the many famous and skilled authors Mossanen invokes sexually in this novel, she also invokes Oscar Wilde, who not only does not deserve this abuse, but I'm also fairly certain that he wouldn't be interested in these ladies, if you know what I mean.
The only real difference between "Courtesan" and "Harem", is the technique of switching point of view, timeline, and location randomly throughout the story. This is often done without signaling to the reader that a switch has taken place and what, precisely, the new narrator/setting/timeline combination is now.
The plot is largely basic, once you allow that all the main characters are two dimensional stereotypes. The grand-matriarch BlueHair of the "Honore" family (It's "ironic" because prostitution isn't usually considered an "honorable" profession.) was "forced" into prostitution when her Jewish family suffered starvation and privation during the war. However, "forced" is a bit of a stretch, since she enjoys the profession too much to quit once she is financially secure and she is adamant that her daughter and granddaughter follow in her chosen profession, even if they don't want to. The daughter, YellowHair, is more than happy to go along with this plan because she is a simple, pleasure seeking creature with very few thoughts in her head; however, the bold, beautiful, horse riding granddaughter RedHair has different ideas. When she falls in love and marries her first suitor, a rich, powerful Jewish diamond merchant, her family reacts with disapproval, which is terribly odd considering that she's single-handedly wrapped up the money and power they wanted her to get for herself. Sure, she's only servicing one man instead of hundreds, but this seems a small point to quibble over.
RedHair's True Love is a perfect husband except that he quickly gets himself murdered when he discovers that the suspicious rare "red diamonds" suddenly flooding the diamond market are a mite suspicious. He is murdered to protect the secret, in a blatant disregard for the economics of scare commodities: if the "rare" red diamonds are "flooding" the market, then suspicious or not, they're not going to hold a high value for very long. At any rate, RedHair vows to find the killer and her search is greatly aided by the face that her mother and grandmother have conveniently serviced everyone worth knowing in the jewelry industry, and a certain key player has a lifelong obsession with crimson red hair and has *never* found a true red head until he's presented with RedHair.
Like "Harem", "Courtesan" is plagued with frequent sex scenes that are not erotic and fail to advance the plot. Most of them revolve around some kind of kink: oddly colored female body hair, exhibitionist urination, eunuch orgasm, and so on. Also, Mossanen has still not learned that an author should show, not tell, so the pages and pages that tell us the personalities of her characters are quite worthless and would have been better served to be replaced by a few pages showing us their actions, thoughts, dreams, and/or desires. As it is, it is clear that these women do not HAVE desires except the most one-dimensional caricatures possible.
~ Ana Mardoll
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