Review: The Valley of Amazement

Title: The Valley of Amazement Image

Author: Amy Tan

Rating: ★★1/2

Provided Synopsis: Moving between the dazzling world of courtesans in turn of the century Shanghai, a remote Chinese mountain village, and the rough-hewn streets of nineteenth-century San Francisco, Amy Tan’s sweeping new novel maps the lives of three generations of women connected by blood and history-and the mystery of an evocative painting known as “The Valley of Amazement.”

Violet is one of the most celebrated courtesans in Shanghai, a beautiful and intelligent woman who has honed her ability to become any man’s fantasy since her start as a “Virgin Courtesan” at the age of twelve. Half-Chinese and half-American, she moves effortlessly between the East and the West. But her talents belie her private struggle to understand who she really is and her search for a home in the world. Abandoned by her mother, Lucia, and uncertain of her father’s identity, Violet’s quest to truly love and be loved will set her on a path fraught with danger and complexity-and the loss of her own daughter.

Lucia, a willful and wild American woman who was once herself the proprietress of Shanghai’s most exclusive courtesan house, nurses her own secret wounds, which she first sustained when, as a teenager, she fell in love with a Chinese painter and followed him from San Francisco to Shanghai. Her search for penance and redemption will bring her to a startling reunion with Flora, Violet’s daughter, and will shatter all that Violet believed she knew about her mother.

Spanning fifty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement is a deeply moving narrative of family secrets, the legacy of trauma, and the profound connections between mothers and daughters, that returns readers to the compelling territory Amy Tan so expertly mapped in The Joy Luck Club. With her characteristic wisdom, grace, and humor, she conjures a story of the inheritance of love, its mysteries and senses, its illusions and truths.

Review: If you have read an Amy Tan book before then you know she is an author who likes to explore mother-daughter relationships through fine storytelling. I will always take an interest in her books because I know she is capable of placing me within the landscape her characters inhabit, and she did not disappoint when it came to this. The disappointment I took from this novel was the length of it!

Don’t get me wrong — I am completely fine with novels of a long length when they include an intricate plotline and the poignant development of characters. But the women that make up the multi-generational family at the heart of The Valley of Amazement were too similar. Lulu, Violet, and Flora have all encountered unrequited (according to their minds) emotional value from those they believed should have provided it to them, such as their parents or lovers. Because of their disappointment in feeling loved all the women fall into similar patters in terms of how their lives are lived. It was depressing to read and in many cases illogical. I find it hard to believe that the mothers in two situations failed to put in a search for their missing daughters. If they had looked sooner then the story could have moved along faster.

My conclusive thoughts are that this was a decent book; it could have benefited from some serious editing. If you are interested in books about mother-daughter relationships, courtesans in Shanghai during the early 1900s, and race relations between Americans and the Chinese in Shanghai, then this might be the book for you. Otherwise, I’d suggest some of Tan’s earlier work so you might see her true skill.

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