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The Valley of Amazement (2013)

by Amy Tan

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1,912868,565 (3.53)71
Violet Minturn, a half-Chinese/half-American courtesan who deals in seduction and illusion in Shanghai, struggles to find her place in the world, while her mother, Lucia, tries to make sense of the choices she has made and the men who have shaped her.
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Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
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  rkleslje | Jan 8, 2023 |
I love the way Amy Tan is able to meld the western and eastern cultures into a complete tapestry. This is a journey that you take with the characters, feeling every step is your own. Much of the book had common threads with "Memoirs of a Geisha" (another favorite book of mine), and I was fearful that it would fail to have a character of its own. After reading the entire book, I was wrong. ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
I loved The Joy Luck Club| and The Kitchen God's Wife and was very excited to find this book at a library sale.

Since I always seem to start out with the negatives, I want to say that there was a lot here that I loved. As with the other two books of Tan's that I've read, there's a fantastic cast of well-structured characters, some of them almost mythical in their story lines (like Madam Li and Perpetual). The world building is beautifully thorough as well: though I know next to nothing about early-twentieth-century Shanghai, I felt as though I could clearly envision the worlds that Lulu and Violent walked through. (Granted, my few childhood years in Singapore probably give me more of a leg up in the mind's eye than most people get.)

Part of what I loved about the previous two Amy Tan novels I've read was the interaction between different generations of women from different cultures. The cover copy of this book promised "two women's intertwined fates" and "spanning more than forty years and two continents", but we only had Violet's point of view for the first 432 pages! An occasional side trip for a story from a secondary character's perspective did help keep from bogging down--Magic Gourd's whole chapter, "Etiquette for Beauties of the Boudoir," was a definite highlight. I was a bit sad that after over 500 pages, we didn't get this kind of dedication to Flora's story--just a few pages of monologue that didn't feel as real as anyone else's.

My chief complaint, though, was how bleak the book was overall. Children with good lives hated their parents. Day-to-day life, which might have offered chance for everyday humor or simple pleasures, was skipped over quickly. We didn't learn much about how Violet adjusted to her fate, what her lessons were like, how she felt about taking different men as lovers.

I almost gave up around the middle, but I held out for the things I loved in Tan's other writing--and sure enough, they appeared. At Violet's bleakest moment, she forges a new bond and finally makes a desperate plan to escape--something I'd been waiting for since the beginning. Her experience with other women, her coming into her own, her finally starting to reach out to others made the rest of the upper-side-of-average book worth it.

From an editorial standpoint, I do wish we could have had more of the Minturn women interwoven with the others. I'm heavily biased toward the structure of The Joy Luck Club--it was one of the first books I read that wasn't a straight-to-the-end narrative. While I don't think the suspense would have held as neatly with Lulu's story appearing sooner, I do think it would help resolve some of the disconnect between the love she expresses for her daughter in her section and the great dearth of it that Violet reports. Surely some of Lulu's gestures would have come across even the most petulant child's self-centeredness? And why would Lulu give her daughter amber, the symbol of her hatred for her own mother?

I'm glad I got to read Amy Tan's latest book, and I look forward to chipping away at her previous novels as well...but I'll be leaving this book at the office for someone else to enjoy rather than keeping it in my hoard. ( )
  books-n-pickles | Oct 29, 2021 |
Among other things, Tan's Valley of Amazement is a beautiful tale of redemption that explores what it means to be a mother and a daughter. The settings are rich and the characters are lively. ( )
  mbellucci | Apr 10, 2021 |
This book was...terrible. Awfully so. It's a cheesy, poorly plotted B-movie wrapped in literary special effects, and I read it much the same way I watch "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". ( )
  EQReader | Dec 1, 2020 |
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In her first novel since 2005’s Saving Fish from Drowning, Tan again explores the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, control and submission, tradition and new beginnings. Jumping from bustling Shanghai to an isolated village in rural China to San Francisco at the turn of the 19th century, the epic story follows three generations of women pulled apart by outside forces. The main focus is Violet, once a virgin courtesan in one of the most reputable houses in Shanghai, who faces a series of crippling setbacks: the death of her first husband from Spanish influenza, a second marriage to an abusive scam artist, and the abduction of her infant daughter, Flora. In a series of flashbacks toward the book’s end, Violet’s American mother, Lulu, is revealed to have suffered a similar and equally disturbing fate two decades earlier. The choice to cram the truth behind Lulu’s sexually promiscuous adolescence in San Francisco, her life as a madam in Shanghai, and Violet’s reunion with a grown Flora into the last 150 pages makes the story unnecessarily confusing. Nonetheless, Tan’s mastery of the lavish world of courtesans and Chinese customs continues to transport.
 
In her first novel in eight years, Amy Tan (Saving Fish From Drowning; The Joy Luck Club) spins a tale that propels us into the lives of three generations of women on both sides of the Pacific. At its vortex is half-Chinese and half-American Violet, an infinitely charismatic Shanghai courtesan who despite her material prosperity and professional success struggles with her identity, her past, and the possibility of real love. Tan's portrait of Violet's dominant, yet emotionally wounded mother Lucia possesses a poignancy that threads the novel together into a piece
added by shieldwolf | editBarnes & Noble (Nov 15, 2013)
 
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Epigraph
Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Quicksand years that whirl me I know not whither,
Your schemes, politics, fail, lines give away, substances mock and elude me,
Only the theme I sing, the great and strong-possess'd soul, eludes not,
One's-self, must never give way - that is the final substance - that out of all is sure,
Out of politics, triumphs, battles, life, what at last finally remains?
When shows break up what but One's-Self is sure?
Walt Whitman, "Quicksand Years"
Dedication
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For Kathi Kamen Goldmark abd Zheng Cao, kindred spirits
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When I was seven, I knew exactly who I was: a thoroughly American girl in race, mannerism and speech, whose mother, Lulu Minturn, was the only white woman who owned a first-class courtesan house in Shanghai.
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Violet Minturn, a half-Chinese/half-American courtesan who deals in seduction and illusion in Shanghai, struggles to find her place in the world, while her mother, Lucia, tries to make sense of the choices she has made and the men who have shaped her.

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n the first part of the story, Violet tells the story of growing up in Hidden Jade Path, a courtesan house in Shanghai that is run by her mother, an American woman named Lulu Minturn. Violet grows up unaware of her father and unsure of her mother's feelings for her.

When the Qing dynasty falls in 1912, mother and daughter are separated and the young girl is sold to a rivaling courtesan house, where she is educated by an older girl, Magic Gourd, formerly of her mother's house. The two form a lifelong relationship through Violet's marriages to former clients. Her first marriage results in a child, Flora, who is taken from Violet as a result of an unlawful marriage.

The second part of the story is told by the mother, who thinks the daughter is dead. She recalls her upbringing by remote parents in the US, her runaway with an unknown Chinese painter, and her struggle to be accepted as the mother of their two children.

Violet is eventually reunited with her mother, and eventually also her daughter Flora.
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