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The Valley of Amazement

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New York Times bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan brings us her latest novel: a sweeping, evocative epic of two women’s intertwined fates and their search for identity—from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog-shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese village Shanghai, 1912. Violet Minturn is the privileged daughter of the American madam of the cit New York Times bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan brings us her latest novel: a sweeping, evocative epic of two women’s intertwined fates and their search for identity—from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog-shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese village Shanghai, 1912. Violet Minturn is the privileged daughter of the American madam of the city’s most exclusive courtesan house. But when the Ching dynasty is overturned, Violet is separated from her mother in a cruel act of chicanery and forced to become a “virgin courtesan.” Half-Chinese and half-American, Violet grapples with her place in the worlds of East and West—until she is able to merge her two halves, empowering her to become a shrewd courtesan who excels in the business of seduction and illusion, though she still struggles to understand who she is. Back in 1897 San Francisco, Violet’s mother, Lucia, chooses a disastrous course as a sixteen-year-old, when her infatuation with a Chinese painter compels her to leave her home for Shanghai. Shocked by her lover’s adherence to Chinese traditions, she is unable to change him, despite her unending American ingenuity. Fueled by betrayals, both women refuse to submit to fate and societal expectations, persisting in their quests to recover what was taken from them: respect; a secure future; and, most poignantly, love from their parents, lovers, and children. To reclaim their lives, they take separate journeys—to a backwater hamlet in China, the wealthy environs of the Hudson River Valley, and, ultimately, the unknown areas of their hearts, where they discover what remains after their many failings to love and be loved. Spanning more than forty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement transports listeners from the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty to the beginning of the Republic and recaptures the lost world of old Shanghai through the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of the foreigners living in the International Settlement, both erased by World War II. A deeply evocative narrative of the profound connections between mothers and daughters, imbued with Tan’s characteristic insight and humor, The Valley of Amazement conjures a story of inherited trauma, desire and deception, and the power and obstinacy of love.


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New York Times bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan brings us her latest novel: a sweeping, evocative epic of two women’s intertwined fates and their search for identity—from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog-shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese village Shanghai, 1912. Violet Minturn is the privileged daughter of the American madam of the cit New York Times bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan brings us her latest novel: a sweeping, evocative epic of two women’s intertwined fates and their search for identity—from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog-shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese village Shanghai, 1912. Violet Minturn is the privileged daughter of the American madam of the city’s most exclusive courtesan house. But when the Ching dynasty is overturned, Violet is separated from her mother in a cruel act of chicanery and forced to become a “virgin courtesan.” Half-Chinese and half-American, Violet grapples with her place in the worlds of East and West—until she is able to merge her two halves, empowering her to become a shrewd courtesan who excels in the business of seduction and illusion, though she still struggles to understand who she is. Back in 1897 San Francisco, Violet’s mother, Lucia, chooses a disastrous course as a sixteen-year-old, when her infatuation with a Chinese painter compels her to leave her home for Shanghai. Shocked by her lover’s adherence to Chinese traditions, she is unable to change him, despite her unending American ingenuity. Fueled by betrayals, both women refuse to submit to fate and societal expectations, persisting in their quests to recover what was taken from them: respect; a secure future; and, most poignantly, love from their parents, lovers, and children. To reclaim their lives, they take separate journeys—to a backwater hamlet in China, the wealthy environs of the Hudson River Valley, and, ultimately, the unknown areas of their hearts, where they discover what remains after their many failings to love and be loved. Spanning more than forty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement transports listeners from the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty to the beginning of the Republic and recaptures the lost world of old Shanghai through the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of the foreigners living in the International Settlement, both erased by World War II. A deeply evocative narrative of the profound connections between mothers and daughters, imbued with Tan’s characteristic insight and humor, The Valley of Amazement conjures a story of inherited trauma, desire and deception, and the power and obstinacy of love.

30 review for The Valley of Amazement

  1. 4 out of 5

    Asa Dematteo

    I am always astounded by reviewers who compare, always unfavorably, the book they have to some book that they feel should have been written. Many of the reader reviews I read here fall into that category. Taken on its own, The Valley of Amazement is a marvelous, nutritious and fulfilling novel, a ripping good yarn. It has, of course, the elegantly simple and lucid prose that Ms. Tan is noted for, as well as the touches of magic and the unique characters she always seems to find. But it also has I am always astounded by reviewers who compare, always unfavorably, the book they have to some book that they feel should have been written. Many of the reader reviews I read here fall into that category. Taken on its own, The Valley of Amazement is a marvelous, nutritious and fulfilling novel, a ripping good yarn. It has, of course, the elegantly simple and lucid prose that Ms. Tan is noted for, as well as the touches of magic and the unique characters she always seems to find. But it also has a sweep and range that Tan has heretofore not managed, all the time preserving the intimate connection of the reader to the scenes, the times, and the actors portrayed. It needs to be a mini-series with high production values produced by HBO or Showtime. I would predict an Emmy. Don’t listen to any of the naysayers, who should, perhaps, themselves write a book that will satisfy their desires rather than be petulant that Tan didn’t write it. Read it and decide for yourself. You will be, well, amazed.

  2. 3 out of 5

    Vicky

    Okay, no thank you Ms. Tan. I really don't want to know the intimate clinical details of what it was to be a prostitute in turn-of-the-century Shanghai. I don't want characters whose nearest and dearest are CONSTANTLY dying or disappearing. Tragedy upon tragedy equals yawn, in the end. You could see what was going to happen at the village the second someone said 'oh let's go to my village.' I was looking for a multi-generational/cultural saga; I got fifty different words for private parts. Off t Okay, no thank you Ms. Tan. I really don't want to know the intimate clinical details of what it was to be a prostitute in turn-of-the-century Shanghai. I don't want characters whose nearest and dearest are CONSTANTLY dying or disappearing. Tragedy upon tragedy equals yawn, in the end. You could see what was going to happen at the village the second someone said 'oh let's go to my village.' I was looking for a multi-generational/cultural saga; I got fifty different words for private parts. Off to wash my brain out.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nicole~

    The Story behind the Story Amy Tan's inspiration for The Valley of Amazement originated at a visit to The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, where she stumbled upon an academic book with a BW photo of courtesans - "a class of women who were influential in introducing Western popular culture to Shanghai" (read between those words). The 1910 photo was captioned: "The Ten Beauties of Shanghai." She was stunned - these women were wearing clothing specific to the trade, identical to those in her favo The Story behind the Story Amy Tan's inspiration for The Valley of Amazement originated at a visit to The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, where she stumbled upon an academic book with a BW photo of courtesans - "a class of women who were influential in introducing Western popular culture to Shanghai" (read between those words). The 1910 photo was captioned: "The Ten Beauties of Shanghai." She was stunned - these women were wearing clothing specific to the trade, identical to those in her favorite photo of her grandmother. She later found out that "no women other than courtesans went to Western photo studios. My grandmother's photo had been taken in just such a place." Her grandmother was twenty-one in 1910. Tan's imaginings of what it would have been like for her grandmother had she been a courtesan in that time ( she was unable to determine the truth of it ) became the impetus for this novel. ************************* The Valley of Amazement Fans of Amy Tan love her novels because she draws from her own rich family history, with strong female characters often framed in a mother-daughter theme blended with China's history and myth. The Valley of Amazement is that kind of novel, and so much more. This novel spans four decades from the turn of the 20th century, from Shanghai to isolated Mood Pond Village, deeply set in the mountains, to San Francisco, telling the story of three generations of women. In 1897, Lucretia (Lulu) Minturn, sixteen and pregnant by a Chinese artist, escapes her strictly conventional Western parents to the excitement of Shanghai, only to find that the life she expects there is an illusion. She quickly sets herself up as the American Madam of "Hidden Jade Path" which fast becomes the city's most prestigious, highest-class courtesan house.* She creates her own illusions, an amazing masked world of desire, love and escape. Lulu has her daughter in 1898 - Violet, who will be torn by her half- American, half -Chinese breeding. "Violet" in Asian culture symbolizes ambiguity and ambivalence by its very nature - it is positioned between red and blue, can be variably mixed one way or the other, is therefore uncertain with no clear identity. Violet struggles to find that balance, the universal harmony between the red and the blue ( the yin and yang, respectively). "I recognized too clearly the signs of my unknown father; my slightly rounded nose, the tipped-up nostrils, the fat below my eyebrows, the smooth roundness of my forehead, the plump cheeks and lips. My mother had none of these features... So this was why my mother had no special affection for me anymore. The Chinese part of my Chinese father was spreading across my face like a stain. If she hated him enough to wish he did not exist, she must feel the same about me." As much as Violet suffers identity crisis, so does Shanghai. From the Boxer Rebellion, the decades-old International Settlement Treaty - by which the British, the Americans, the Germans and Japanese, et al. controlled Shanghai - to the abdication of Emperor Puyi and the dissolution of the Ching Dynasty in 1912, Shanghai became a port city represented by many foreign faces. The city and Violet seem fatefully linked. This is an inauspicious period for Violet - as the Imperial dynasty collapses, as rebellious crowds revolt in the streets chanting "down with the foreign!", Violet is lost to her mother, marking the worst turning point of her young life - being "trafficked" as a virgin courtesan. Fifty Shades of Violet Violet is sold as a virgin courtesan, her "defloration" is auctioned to the highest bidder. Her life as a courtesan would spiral up and down, as Shanghai goes through her own decadent and decayed periods. She is forcibly separated from her small daughter, Flora, and is reduced further by exploitation. She chances leaving Shanghai for the promise of a wholesome life in Moon Pond nestled between two mountains - the magical life she imagined from the painting "Valley of Amazement", only to find that that also is an illusion - the dream turns to nightmare. She is warned that "women kill themselves in places like that because there's no other way to escape." The brutality that she suffers was hard to read, but I felt this was imperative to the novel. Violet draws her strength from hitting rock bottom. She modifies her viewpoint, turns her life around and looks to find the missing part of her. Tan's depiction of the courtesan world is mesmerizing, sometimes bawdy, sometimes violent and gut-wrenchingly tragic. It is a well plotted effort not to glorify the world of sex trade: rather to show that it is a business built on providing a pleasure haven, a dream escape, a fantasy world for Shanghai's wealthy Western and Chinese businessmen, while dually existing as a degrading exploitation of women, with a vast scope of consequences that sometimes end tragically. She clearly depicts the profession as one that many young women were victimized and forced into, whether it was due to human trafficking or the most basic human need for survival. Tan's artful weaving of love, duality and search for identity veiled in shadows of illusions and elusiveness, balances the violent reality of the sex trade - a notable attribute that sets this novel incomparably apart from others in the same genre. For Violet, when the shadows dissolve and the picture is clearer, she could separate the beautiful (the illusion) from the beastly ( the cruelty) and find harmony in her own dual nature. ************************** Shanghai Courtesan life early 1900s * A place where rich and powerful businessmen met to make deals and discuss agendas, be entertained in high fashion, de-stress from their problems and fears. High-class courtesans were described in titillating detail by their beauty, their romantic liaisons with the city's rich and powerful, their ability to engage in financial strategizing at the expense of the customer. Courtesans were said to be singers and storytellers. They were commonly referred to as sing-song girls; They often regarded themselves as skilled entertainers rather than providers of sexual services. They prided themselves on selling their voices rather than their bodies. Beautiful to look at and listen to, they were cultivated women showcased in their exquisitely appointed settings who could sing, compose poetry and converse with wit. It was a picture perfect world of women with a great deal of room to choose their own companions, arrange their own working conditions, though obviously in many constraints living lives of occasional poverty but not serious material deprivation. (aside research from The Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol.3,No.2, Oct. 1992, Courtesans and Streetwalkers by Gail Hershatter).

  4. 3 out of 5

    Miss Melly

    There is so much to like about this novel but ultimately it is let down by too many unlikely character motivations. The characters that Amy Tan draws for us - strong, savvy and resilient women - would simply NOT turn into nitwits overnight and make the poor decisions she depicts. If a child of yours was kidnapped, would you ever put another child of yours at risk? And if you later discovered the whereabouts of your child, would you move heaven and earth to find that child, or would you just say, There is so much to like about this novel but ultimately it is let down by too many unlikely character motivations. The characters that Amy Tan draws for us - strong, savvy and resilient women - would simply NOT turn into nitwits overnight and make the poor decisions she depicts. If a child of yours was kidnapped, would you ever put another child of yours at risk? And if you later discovered the whereabouts of your child, would you move heaven and earth to find that child, or would you just say, nah, I'm over it. If your child was killed in another country, would you want to bring their body home to you? Would you investigate what happened? Or would you just shed a few tears and move on? If you were surrounded by shysters and were taught to recognise a shyster from 20 paces, all-of-a-sudden would you up and marry one? There were just too many incidents like this - 180 degree turns in character to make the plot fit. But all it did was give the feeling that the plot was a square peg being squeezed into a round hole. And that, my friends, is the one description of genitalia that is not used in this novel.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Don’t call them prostitutes. That’s the first rule of the Shanghai courtesans in Amy Tan’s exhausting new novel, “The Valley of Amazement.” Just because these women provide sex in exchange for money, they’re not prostitutes, so don’t even think that. Deception and misperception are the stock in trade of the sex business — and of this story, too, which stretches over four generations and thousands of miles. The valley of “The Valley of Amazement” is very deep, indeed, an arduous journey of fraud, k Don’t call them prostitutes. That’s the first rule of the Shanghai courtesans in Amy Tan’s exhausting new novel, “The Valley of Amazement.” Just because these women provide sex in exchange for money, they’re not prostitutes, so don’t even think that. Deception and misperception are the stock in trade of the sex business — and of this story, too, which stretches over four generations and thousands of miles. The valley of “The Valley of Amazement” is very deep, indeed, an arduous journey of fraud, kidnapping and ritualized rape. It has been almost 25 years since “The Joy Luck Club” launched Tan’s career, and this new novel explores some of the same themes of festering family secrets, the conflicts between mothers and daughters, and the sacrifices that women must make. Most of the story, which begins in 1905, is narrated by Violet, whose early confidence is cruelly squashed: “When I was seven,” she begins, “I knew exactly who I was: a thoroughly American girl in race, manners, and speech, whose mother, Lulu Minturn, was the only white woman who owned a first-class courtesan house in Shanghai.” As it turns out, Violet knows almost nothing about who she is — or who her mother is — but she’s awfully well-informed about what goes on in a courtesan house. Lulu Minturn may earn a nice surplus by facilitating business deals between American and Chinese clients, but she generates the bulk of her income by managing sex workers who come to her as young as 13. Everything about the courtesan experience is refined into a complex tradition of wheedling and enticement that’s meant to disguise these meretricious transactions as “courtship.” In Violet’s clear-eyed descriptions, we see how clients pretend to woo her mother’s employees, plying them with gifts, competing for their favors, even begging for permission to stage mock weddings. Tan doesn’t let us forget that these women are at the top of the sex trade, where they enjoy a level of financial and personal autonomy that common streetwalkers — and even middle-class Western women — can’t imagine. One courtesan rebukes a client: “You don’t need to pity us. We live quite well,” she says. “We have our freedom, unlike American women who cannot go anywhere without their husbands or old maid aunts.” But the graceful conventions — the lovely clothes, elegant dinners and genteel repartee — can’t hide the true nature of this business, laid out in these pages in exquisite and slightly shocking detail. Among the most disturbing practices that Tan portrays is the auctioning off of young virgins, a process breathlessly covered in the Shanghai press the way the Times might cover an exciting sale at Sotheby’s. Even as Violet unveils this exotic world for us, she’s consumed with her own identity, the discovery of her true self, which becomes the story’s central, somewhat facile concern. Her slightly Asian appearance begins to challenge her sense of who she really is, and her mother’s evasions about her father don’t help put those suspicions to rest. It’s hard to trust a woman who sells affection professionally. The novel is structured as a series of shattered promises, a pattern that readers will notice long before Violet does. In the first and most emotionally wrenching ordeal, the narrator is sold off as a virgin courtesan, plunging her into the very world of sexual competition and abuse that she observed so carefully under her mother’s tutelage. “Fate once made you American. Fate took it away,” a fellow courtesan tells her. “You are a flower that will be plucked over and over again. You are now at the bottom of society.” Still a teenager, Violet must cultivate her own clients, use her beauty and her intelligence to survive, and secure the Four Necessities of life: jewelry, furniture, a stipend and retirement. “Forget about love.” But don’t forget about sex. There’s a lot of it in “The Valley of Amazement” — most of it contractual, some of it violent, a little of it romantic and all of it slightly odd-sounding. At one point, Violet tells us, “He flayed against me, until our bodies were slapping, and he took me into the typhoon and geologic disaster.” I didn’t know whether to call Dr. Ruth or the Red Cross. But amid all the coupling, Violet’s adventures roll on, carrying her to great success and bitter defeat in an ever-expanding compendium of personal disasters, plagues, ghosts, double-crosses and losses at the hands of lovers, gangsters, lawyers and relatives. Her life as an undocumented biracial woman leaves her vulnerable to legal manipulation and criminal exploitation. And sometimes she doesn’t act in her own best interest, either. She pursues one handsome, charming man through countless arguments and disappointments. (How do you say, “He’s just not that into you” in Mandarin?) Meanwhile, world wars blaze away — strangely far away. For all its bulk, “The Valley of Amazement” offers little historical detail outside its own cloistered world. But Shanghai rockets into the future, spoiling the elegant courtesan business with crude Western expectations of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. This is all exciting and harrowing — and sometimes even funny, in an exasperated “Oh, what fresh hell is this” kind of way. One section reads like a Chinese version of “Cold Comfort Farm” with bad sex. There are also hilariously detailed instructions on how to tell a story to men, how to get them to fall in love, how to nickname their private parts and how to manage the “Nine Urges” (seven more than I knew about). Even some of Violet’s relations with clients take on a zany rom-com vibe before plunging back into abuse. Violet’s flat, affectless voice can portray events in stark detail, but it can also seem false. That problem arises early when you’d expect a fiery girl who is kidnapped, beaten and sold into sex slavery to exhibit far more emotional timbre. As the novel moves along, this seems as much a problem of characterization as of plotting. Violet may say she’s devastated or filled with rage, but when she suffers some truly life-shattering losses, she shows as much distress as I feel about losing a sock. She seems to forget — sometimes for years — what’s been done to her. That dillydallying only lengthens what’s already a long novel, which is extended even further by a hundred pages of largely unneeded background dropped near the end. Narrated by Violet’s mother, this section is meant to establish all kinds of interesting parallels with Violet’s life, but the fact that it’s delivered in exactly the same voice is one distracting parallel too many. “The Valley of Amazement” is never dull — there’s far too much sex, suffering and intrigue for that — but it’s wearisome. We deserve more enlightenment for surviving this ordeal with Violet. Her travails should deliver us to a place we couldn’t have imagined at the start.

  6. 3 out of 5

    Jaidee

    1.5 "sociocultural, soft porn and soap opera" stars. 2015 Most Disappointing Read (tie) I want to start off by saying I read two books by Amy Tan in my twenties that I liked very much. These were the Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife. They were interesting and about complicated relationships but written in an accessible and intelligent way. This current book took eight years to write and I want to say it was just an awful reading experience. Eight years to write this tortuous book. The book 1.5 "sociocultural, soft porn and soap opera" stars. 2015 Most Disappointing Read (tie) I want to start off by saying I read two books by Amy Tan in my twenties that I liked very much. These were the Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife. They were interesting and about complicated relationships but written in an accessible and intelligent way. This current book took eight years to write and I want to say it was just an awful reading experience. Eight years to write this tortuous book. The book started off middling and ended in a verbiage of overwrought nonsense. I will start off with what was very good. The backdrop was expertly described- the architecture, the fashions and the understanding of the sociocultural dynamics of Shanghai in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Ms. Tan was able to impart where different groups of people (courtesans, wives, servants, businessmen, Chinese, European and Mixed race) fit with each other and what was expected. This is what kept me reading. If it weren't for the very good backdrop the book would have been completely unbearable. This was a work of fiction but both characters and plot were overwrought, histrionic, flat and dull. The repetitiveness of the writing, the staleness of the storylines and the lack of psychological uniformity of the character sketches was quite simply unbelievable. I found it "amazing" how one book could be crass and dull at the same time. This was like one very long television mini-series from the 1980s that should just never have happened. The title was a huge misnomer "The Valley of Amazement" I never once felt even close to this. Stunned and disbelieving was more like it. I decided to come up with some other titles that may have been more applicable. -The Valley of Vexation -The Lakes of Lasciviousness and Lewdness -The Mountain of Mediocrity or my personal favorite -The Ocean of "Omigosh-ms.tan-ohmigosh-whathappened" Like I said I am not giving up on Ms. Tan as I have very much enjoyed and admired previous novels.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Susan Johnson

    It is a testament to Tan's writing that I finished this book. I do not like spending so much time with characters I do not like or respect. Violet Minturn, the daughter of a famed American courtesan mistress in Shanghi, is someone I didn't enjoy. A spoiled brat would be a good description. Violet is half American, half Chinese, a fact that she doesn't discover until she's 8 or 9. She creeps around the house spying on all the courtesans at work. Nothing her mother does is good enough and Violet n It is a testament to Tan's writing that I finished this book. I do not like spending so much time with characters I do not like or respect. Violet Minturn, the daughter of a famed American courtesan mistress in Shanghi, is someone I didn't enjoy. A spoiled brat would be a good description. Violet is half American, half Chinese, a fact that she doesn't discover until she's 8 or 9. She creeps around the house spying on all the courtesans at work. Nothing her mother does is good enough and Violet never feels loved. Violet's mother decides to return to San Francisco and is tricked into leaving Violet behind. Word is sent to her that Violet has died. Violet is sold into another courtsesan house as a virgin and is trained to take up the profession. Even though she knows her mother was tricked in leaving her behind and that her mother believes her dead, she is outraged her mother doesn't come back for her. Her unhappiness colors every thing. She gets involved in a relationship with an American and participates in a counterfeit identification that leads to horrendous results. I can not fathom why she does so and it is never explained. She is outraged, once again, that her duplicity is discovered. This character never seems to mature or make adult, well thought decisions. It is like she quit growing at 14. The book is overly long. There's so much discussion of furnishings and clothes that I tended to nod off. I think it could have been edited by at least 100 pages and been a better story. I can see why it took her 8 years to write it as it is so detailed. I find that as an author gets more famous that there is less editing leading to really uneven stories. Still I read it. Amy Tan is a fine author and I doubt I would have finished it for any other author. I like to enjoy and appreciate the characters. I like to see characters grow and mature. I don't need to be impressed by details about things that really don't matter to the story. I really can't recommend this book. At it's length, it's a big investment of time for very little return.

  8. 3 out of 5

    Susan

    I read Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club in a high school English class. While I remember little of the specific details, I do recall the mother-daughter themes that really resonated with me: family lineage and the internal identity conflicts that come with being an Asian American, the search for self-affirmation through love, and finding one's place in the family, community, and world. I got a hold of an advance copy of The Valley of Amazement from the publisher through a media publishing company I worked I read Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club in a high school English class. While I remember little of the specific details, I do recall the mother-daughter themes that really resonated with me: family lineage and the internal identity conflicts that come with being an Asian American, the search for self-affirmation through love, and finding one's place in the family, community, and world. I got a hold of an advance copy of The Valley of Amazement from the publisher through a media publishing company I worked for. Admittedly, what initially attracted me to it was its velvety green cover. Soft to the touch. And then Amy Tan's gold embossed name running across the cover. The title itself is alluring. It sounds positive, hopeful, uplifting, a little quirky. But the book is tragic. It's comedic. It's a reflection on Amy Tan's own struggle, and on the struggles of many other Asian women who've felt shortchanged by society on the basis of their biological and ethnic inheritance. What I enjoyed most was the historical context: Shanghai in the 1900s, the background of the revolution, the geography Tan explores without sacrificing authenticity. The Valley of Amazement is about young Violet, and follows her unfortunate misadventures as a gullible, selfish courtesan. But it's not just a window into that type of lifestyle. The Valley of Amazement is about a lot of things. Tan will steer you in so many different directions, forcing you to see what you tried so hard to resist seeing. But it's not shock value that makes this book impossible to put down. It's the lessons Tan threads into the words: that we are all products of hope and love, that only with great loss comes great gain.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    I read Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses years ago and loved it; I quite enjoyed The Bonesetter's Daughter as well. I'm one of the few people on the planet who didn't much like The Joy Luck Club, but it was Tan's first novel and my reaction had more to do with the way she chose to tell the story than her talent as a writer. Also, I love historical fiction and reading about China. All of which is to say, I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately, it tanked. The book begins with some moder I read Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses years ago and loved it; I quite enjoyed The Bonesetter's Daughter as well. I'm one of the few people on the planet who didn't much like The Joy Luck Club, but it was Tan's first novel and my reaction had more to do with the way she chose to tell the story than her talent as a writer. Also, I love historical fiction and reading about China. All of which is to say, I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately, it tanked. The book begins with some moderately interesting information about the protagonist's childhood, before launching into a long and detailed description of the high-class brothel in which she grew up, and that's representative of the following 200 pages. If brothels were an unexplored setting in literature, this might work, but they aren't and Tan isn't doing anything here that hasn't been done before. I've already read Memoirs of a Geisha, and its other (better) imitators, such as The Painter from Shanghai; this novel just feels derivative and flat, its characters more recycled than human, its plot lost in tedious description. I heard an interview with Tan about this book, in which the primary topic was her extensive research, and she talked about spending a lot of time tracking down small details: for instance, when her characters traveled from Shanghai to San Francisco, would the ship have had rails? I applaud her commitment to accuracy, but that preoccupation shows. The setting is here but the life is missing. I finally yielded at page 215, because the story yet to evoke any interest in me and reading it had become a chore. The topic of early-20th-century Asian courtesans, as imagined by modern American writers, is pretty well exhausted at this point. Or at least, this book lacks the depth and vibrancy to make that ground worth revisiting. I hope for better from Tan's next novel.

  10. 4 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    Amy Tan’s derivative new novel covers the familiar themes she has recycled from her previous novels about mother-daughter relationships. Spanning 50 years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the saga takes place largely in the courtesan houses of Shanghai, when vast changes were occurring during the early establishment of the Republic of China. Told in the first person by a daughter from each generation, (but mostly from one named Violet), the reader is taken on an epic journey of love, i Amy Tan’s derivative new novel covers the familiar themes she has recycled from her previous novels about mother-daughter relationships. Spanning 50 years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the saga takes place largely in the courtesan houses of Shanghai, when vast changes were occurring during the early establishment of the Republic of China. Told in the first person by a daughter from each generation, (but mostly from one named Violet), the reader is taken on an epic journey of love, illusion, betrayal, abandonment, and redemption. Tan doesn’t break any new ground here. Arthur Golden’s 1997 MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, about Japan’s geisha houses, was written more lyrically and subtly, and used a very similar framing device. Tan didn’t create any original characters, nor did she introduce a fresh premise. However, her pacing is astute and her flourishes are vivid. Tan’s beach read would more accurately be listed under historical romance, and its inelegant prose and broad characters failed to hit any visceral and emotional registers with me. Violet, precocious half Chinese/half American daughter of Lulu, a beautiful American woman who runs a prestigious courtesan house in Shanghai, is separated from her mother by trickery. As Lulu sails sadly away to America, Violet is forced to begin her life as a courtesan at the age of fourteen, but in a second-class establishment. Her only ally is her attendant, Magic Gourd, who serves as a mother figure and protector. Violet learns all the details of the life of a courtesan, such as storytelling, zither mastering, sartorial nuance, conversational alacrity, and, most importantly, the art of seduction. These women are referred to as “flowers,” and at fifteen are bought by the highest bidder in a “defloration” ceremony to lose their virginity. By their late 20’s their bloom is fading, and they are too old to compete against their younger counterparts. The courtesans are warned against the illusion of love and the fantasy of marriage; at the most, they can hope to run their own courtesan house someday. Of course, the passionate Violet periodically succumbs to her desires, and suffers disappointment at every twist and turn, as well as episodes of bliss. It is terribly contrived but also colorful, and despite predictability, I found myself turning the pages to see what would happen next. Tan creates so many obstacles for her characters that I actually got involved in the storyteller’s weave. Unfortunately, she left no room for authenticity, and the great passions felt expository, while the erotic scenes were awkward and lackluster. It sounded a lot like “And then she…” “And then she…” “And then she.” Scenes that were supposed to be horrifying fell flat in the telling, subverting Tan’s intentions to grip the reader. The title of the book refers to a painting that appears throughout the narrative, symbolizing clarity and illusion, beauty and eternity. “It captures many moments, many emotions…hope, love, and purity. I see in it immortality, neither beginning nor end. It seems to be saying all moments are immortal and will never disappear, nor will peace in the valley, or the strength of mountains, or the openness of the sky…” This motif of the painting is rendered with lovely abstraction and brush strokes, yet, ironically, the plot of the story is more like paint-by-number. Tan's novel is like a composition on a canvas, but you are disappointed by the lack of contour and occasion for personal translation. Everything is right up front, with no mystery. Like the art that graces most office buildings, it is familiar and undemanding. Occasionally, it darts out with colorful swirls.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Relentless misfortune gets a little tiresome to read about after a while; so too with this book, wherein almost everything tragic that could possibly befall a young girl in early 20th century Shanghai most certainly does. I don't want to add to any unfair expectation that an Amy Tan novel must have an equal amount of storytelling divided amongst members of each generation, but at some point I would have liked to stop hearing about all of Violet's woes & get more juice about her mother Lucia. Relentless misfortune gets a little tiresome to read about after a while; so too with this book, wherein almost everything tragic that could possibly befall a young girl in early 20th century Shanghai most certainly does. I don't want to add to any unfair expectation that an Amy Tan novel must have an equal amount of storytelling divided amongst members of each generation, but at some point I would have liked to stop hearing about all of Violet's woes & get more juice about her mother Lucia. As it stands, Lucia & then Flora seem tacked on in the last 100 pages to little effect. I wonder the choice was made to use their voices since there is so little told from their perspective. Ultimately, no matter who is telling the tale, it's mostly nothing but sad, bad news for these women. I was relieved when I was finished reading this & I feel like I could use some Wodehouse to cleanse my palate.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Susanne Pari

    I was thrilled when I realized Amy Tan's newest protagonist is biracial: Anglo-American and Chinese. Tan has always handled the bicultural narrative brilliantly, but the biracial narrative is far more complex and certainly more broadly significant to the current readership. She handles the subject with great insight and also courageously, because this novel, after all, takes place mostly during the the early 1900s, when biracial children were regarded with such deep aversion both in China and in I was thrilled when I realized Amy Tan's newest protagonist is biracial: Anglo-American and Chinese. Tan has always handled the bicultural narrative brilliantly, but the biracial narrative is far more complex and certainly more broadly significant to the current readership. She handles the subject with great insight and also courageously, because this novel, after all, takes place mostly during the the early 1900s, when biracial children were regarded with such deep aversion both in China and in America. Ultimately, The Valley of Amazement is a gripping saga of female survival in a world where women have few options for self-determination. Violet, the main protagonist, is a nuanced character whose struggle for independence will inspire all readers to consider their own choices: past, present, and future. As for the sex; there's a great deal of it, but not gratuitous; instead, it's a courageous examination of a world -- the courtesan world -- wherein the strengths and weaknesses of both women and men are constantly tested and measured by a society on the cusp of change. As in the hidden world of the harem, Amy Tan's courtesan houses are where political and economic secrets are bared, and often where power is brokered. History is on stage, and there is no better seat in the house than this one.

  13. 3 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    It is very apparent that Tan did a huge amount of research before writing this novel. Her writing is very fluid and strong, so why than did I only rate this book a three? When I first started reading this I was enthralled, reading about the lives of the concubine, the houses that provided pleasure but also a place were business was discussed and deals were made. Found it fascinating that the madame of the place was a white woman, who had a young daughter. Fast forward and politics rears its ugly It is very apparent that Tan did a huge amount of research before writing this novel. Her writing is very fluid and strong, so why than did I only rate this book a three? When I first started reading this I was enthralled, reading about the lives of the concubine, the houses that provided pleasure but also a place were business was discussed and deals were made. Found it fascinating that the madame of the place was a white woman, who had a young daughter. Fast forward and politics rears its ugly head, previous players are no longer the ruling players and love makes a fool of an otherwise wise woman. This is when it began to get monotonous for me. The training of a young virgin, the intimate details all became too much, I no longer cared to read constantly about the ways to please a man. Details were repeated and I had a hard time reading the explicit details on the deflowering of a young girl, and it was more than one girl. In truth the book was about a hundred pages too long for me, but while I felt bad for these young woman, I really did not like any of these characters. This is how the book was for me, many from the reviews do not feel that way. So read this for a look into a little known culture, well researched but just know that in places it gets repetitive and very explicit.

  14. 3 out of 5

    Zoeytron

    It took the better part of 200 pages before this storyline started to gain a stake in my interest, and even then it was more of a gentle tug than a grabber. Still and yet, the writing is lovely; we are used to this with Amy Tan. Grief is defined as when ‘your eyes still see but have stopped looking’. Harbingers of bad luck masquerade as a sudden breath of wind, a tear in a garment of clothing, or a laughing bird. The impossibility of hanging a painting in a room of round walls is pondered. There It took the better part of 200 pages before this storyline started to gain a stake in my interest, and even then it was more of a gentle tug than a grabber. Still and yet, the writing is lovely; we are used to this with Amy Tan. Grief is defined as when ‘your eyes still see but have stopped looking’. Harbingers of bad luck masquerade as a sudden breath of wind, a tear in a garment of clothing, or a laughing bird. The impossibility of hanging a painting in a room of round walls is pondered. There are wonderful character names – Old Jump, Cracked Egg (he is a gatekeeper – what are the odds?), and Magic Gourd. My favorite lines had to do with a question posed to a dinner guest. ‘What is your opinion on fate?’ queries the host. The guest responds with “I am Chinese. I cannot recommend it highly enough.’ It is doubtful that I will continue to buy this author’s new releases in hardback. Her earlier novels were much more to my liking. Although this is my least favorite of Amy Tan’s novels and not one I would read a second time, there are plenty of reviews out there that do not share my lukewarm feelings about the book. The appeal is probably alive and well for diehard Tan fans.

  15. 3 out of 5

    Denise

    Amy Tan is an amazing storyteller, and THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT exemplifies her skills. This is a multi generational story between mothers and daughters, as well as many other wonderful and important characters. The attention to detail and historical research that must have gone into the writing of this novel is mind-boggling. If you loved MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, you will be fascinated by the details and lives of Tan's courtesans. I have read some criticisms of this book in other reviews, that it wa Amy Tan is an amazing storyteller, and THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT exemplifies her skills. This is a multi generational story between mothers and daughters, as well as many other wonderful and important characters. The attention to detail and historical research that must have gone into the writing of this novel is mind-boggling. If you loved MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, you will be fascinated by the details and lives of Tan's courtesans. I have read some criticisms of this book in other reviews, that it was too long or too romantic. Personally, I love a long novel if it doesn't drag. VALLEY did have its moments where I thought it got a bit slow or perhaps could have ended sooner, but the pace always picked up. Judging the length and story in totality, though, I can't say the slow parts decreased my enjoyment of it. As for the romance criticisms, I do not read romance and detest sickeningly sweet romance stories. Yet the romances in this book did not bother me a bit. In many ways, the romantic relationships were an intricate part of the core of the story. Overall, I really really enjoyed this book and almost wish it hadn't ended because I will miss the characters! Edited to add that I went to an Amy Tan booksigning tonight. She was lovely.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    Spoilers.. sort of. I'm still slogging through this book.. about 100 pages left. I don't know if I can make it. Too many sex techniques, like way, way, way too many. (And I'm fond of sex information) Way too long.and it covers almost the same .location, same abusive husband/men, same mountain village and same mystical mountain pass. I'm so disappointed. I can walk that damn mountain pass in my sleep. In general, I love Tan's books.. but nothing new was brought to The Valley of Amazement.

  17. 4 out of 5

    JoAnne Pulcino

    THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT Amy Tan Amy Tan has long held the title of the queen of the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, at least those of Chinese descent. THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT is the story of three generations of women all torn away from each other. The novel takes place at the turn of the 19th century traveling from Shanghai to a remote village in China to San Francisco. Violet is a virgin courtesan in one of the most reputable houses in Shanghai where the length and graphic de THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT Amy Tan Amy Tan has long held the title of the queen of the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, at least those of Chinese descent. THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT is the story of three generations of women all torn away from each other. The novel takes place at the turn of the 19th century traveling from Shanghai to a remote village in China to San Francisco. Violet is a virgin courtesan in one of the most reputable houses in Shanghai where the length and graphic descriptions of the lessons on how to be a courtesan became tedious and unnecessary. Unless you plan on becoming a courtesan you really don’t need these lessons. I am not a prude nor do I mind reading prurient narrative, but this was totally over kill. Violet and Violet’s American mother, Lulu experience the same anguish when their infant daughters were abducted, and spend their life’s thinking about and yearning for their children. The harrowing journeys depicted in the novel were extremely long and terribly slow reading even while experiencing great empathy for the women. The descriptions of the clothes, the customs, the traditions and the family obligations were handled with great beauty so indicative of Ms.Tan’s talent. Ms. Tan’s beautiful writing was eclipsed by the hurry and confusion in the last 150 pages. As a long time Amy Tan fan, I was disappointed and experienced great remorse that I couldn’t sing her praises.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elyse

    3.7 stars --- I enjoyed the storytelling --but it felt like a story I've read many times. When its clear the story is going to be predictable (yet enjoyable also: as I DID enjoy reading Amy Tan again), it just doesn't take 600 pages to tell the story. 350 pages would have been about enough. Yet... Amy Tan is an eloquent writer. It was easy to imagine the courtesans, their fashions, and their behaviors in public with their suitors. [The dramatic -the rich -the refined 'little darlings' creating i 3.7 stars --- I enjoyed the storytelling --but it felt like a story I've read many times. When its clear the story is going to be predictable (yet enjoyable also: as I DID enjoy reading Amy Tan again), it just doesn't take 600 pages to tell the story. 350 pages would have been about enough. Yet... Amy Tan is an eloquent writer. It was easy to imagine the courtesans, their fashions, and their behaviors in public with their suitors. [The dramatic -the rich -the refined 'little darlings' creating illusions of romance]. Themes deal with trust, abandonment, love, forgiveness, friendship, identity struggles (Chinese/American), lots of strategies for how to be a Chinese Courtesan....etc. Many different relationships involving: Mother/daughter... Father/daughter Man/wife... love Child Another Child? Sex/rape/prostitution Shanghai... San Francisco... And the connections by a Painting...."The Valley of Amazement" In the middle of Amy Tan's storytelling, she inserts a 'quote' from "Leaves of Grass", which I happen to love very : "Not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel if by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere--on water and on land."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I ate up Amy Tan's book when I originally stumbled onto her novels and was left 'wanting more' soooo a few years ago when I saw a new book was coming out I was excited. I even ordered a CD (audio book) that offered a glimpse of the book and was left wanting more.. I started the novel when it originally came out but along the way 'life' got in the way and I put this book on the burner...Actually, my kindle broke so I had to wait to replace it before I could continue on,however, I didn't. Sooo I rep I ate up Amy Tan's book when I originally stumbled onto her novels and was left 'wanting more' soooo a few years ago when I saw a new book was coming out I was excited. I even ordered a CD (audio book) that offered a glimpse of the book and was left wanting more.. I started the novel when it originally came out but along the way 'life' got in the way and I put this book on the burner...Actually, my kindle broke so I had to wait to replace it before I could continue on,however, I didn't. Sooo I repicked this book up just recently and felt excited to finally read the whole book from the start to end with no interruptions this time... I WAS DISAPPOINTED!! I love reading books set in Asia, this one being set in China but something just didn't gel with me. I thought maybe the restart of the novel hampered my enjoyment but it wasn't that. The world building just wasn't there like other novels. The characters were okay but something with them lacked overall feeling. The thing is...They easily went stupid over certain men and it just seemed against the grain. I guess...If I was reading this a pure trashy romance then I might of enjoyed it but I wasn't.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Having enjoyed Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses, I was excited to receive an ARC of her upcoming book. Looked forward all week to a great read. The premise was interesting, and I enjoyed the history woven in. I also felt that overall the topic of courtesans was treated respectfully. There is a lot to think about and I think book clubs will enjoy talking about various issues raised int he book. For me, the amount of detail was over the top. Wasn't dense, felt repetitive to me. I started to lose Having enjoyed Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses, I was excited to receive an ARC of her upcoming book. Looked forward all week to a great read. The premise was interesting, and I enjoyed the history woven in. I also felt that overall the topic of courtesans was treated respectfully. There is a lot to think about and I think book clubs will enjoy talking about various issues raised int he book. For me, the amount of detail was over the top. Wasn't dense, felt repetitive to me. I started to lose interest about 3/4 way through. I did finish it and am glad I did. Sensitive readers: (view spoiler)[child sexual abuse, occasional descriptions of consensual sex, rape, domestic abuse, sexual exploitation, small amount of profanity (hide spoiler)]

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mary Lins

    If you want HUNDREDS of pages of minutia on being a Chinese courtesan (read: high dollar prostitute) in the early 20th century...then Amy Tan's new novel, "The Valley of Amazement" is for you. If you like ROMANCE novels...then this may be the book for you; I don't know what you call a "Bodice Ripper" for a culture that doesn't wear bodices...a "Robe Ripper" maybe? If you liked the how-to dating book called "The Rules"...then you might enjoy the section on how to be a courtesan. (Spoiler alert for If you want HUNDREDS of pages of minutia on being a Chinese courtesan (read: high dollar prostitute) in the early 20th century...then Amy Tan's new novel, "The Valley of Amazement" is for you. If you like ROMANCE novels...then this may be the book for you; I don't know what you call a "Bodice Ripper" for a culture that doesn't wear bodices...a "Robe Ripper" maybe? If you liked the how-to dating book called "The Rules"...then you might enjoy the section on how to be a courtesan. (Spoiler alert for both books: Men like women who are hard-to-get!) If you loved "The Joy Luck Club" with its wonderful insight on the complicated mother-daughter relationship and the riveting details of the cultural differences between China and the US, past and present... then this is NOT the Amy Tan novel for you.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Maggi

    As a true Amy Tan fan and avid reader of her books, I'm sad to report that The Valley of Amazement is not at all amazing. The language in the part of the book set in China (most of it) seems stilted, as if to convey a Chinese sensibility that only ends up as awkward. I thought of the book as it went along as the Black Beauty of courtesan books. Remember how Black Beauty just went from one sad situation to the next one? That is poor Violet, left behind, betrayed, pulling herself together yet ag As a true Amy Tan fan and avid reader of her books, I'm sad to report that The Valley of Amazement is not at all amazing. The language in the part of the book set in China (most of it) seems stilted, as if to convey a Chinese sensibility that only ends up as awkward. I thought of the book as it went along as the Black Beauty of courtesan books. Remember how Black Beauty just went from one sad situation to the next one? That is poor Violet, left behind, betrayed, pulling herself together yet again, with her faithful yet incredibly annoying sidekick Magic Gourd tagging along like a screeching peddler's cart. This is not to say I didn't care about Violet; I most certainly did, and I wanted the best for her, plodding through the book to see what happens. The final chapters involving Violet's daughter seemed to belong to a different book and were as oddly unsatisfying and emotionally disconnected as the character of Lu Shing. Definitely wait for the paperback.

  23. 3 out of 5

    Pilar

    Me ha gustado bastante, a pesar de que en algunos momentos se me ha hecho algo pesado. Es un libro largo, en el que conocemos muchísimo sobre la cultura china de final del XIX y principio del siglo XX, sobre todo te sumerge en el mundo de las cortesanas. Y en este punto es en el que en algún momento me ha llegado a cansar, porque tanto rollo de un cortejo tras otro me agotaba. Mientras lo leía no paraba de pensar en lo injusto que ha sido siempre todo para la mujer, en cualquier cultura. Porque Me ha gustado bastante, a pesar de que en algunos momentos se me ha hecho algo pesado. Es un libro largo, en el que conocemos muchísimo sobre la cultura china de final del XIX y principio del siglo XX, sobre todo te sumerge en el mundo de las cortesanas. Y en este punto es en el que en algún momento me ha llegado a cansar, porque tanto rollo de un cortejo tras otro me agotaba. Mientras lo leía no paraba de pensar en lo injusto que ha sido siempre todo para la mujer, en cualquier cultura. Porque las mujeres protagonistas no tenían opciones, no les dejaban opciones para luchar, y siempre debían escoger el mal menor, para ellas. lectura recomendable si te va este tipo de libros.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kelly (and the Book Boar)

    Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ 1.5 Stars An epic mother/daughter saga that spans 50 years. The Valley of Amazement tells the story of Lucia, who becomes pregnant as a teen and leaves her family in hopes of marrying her Chinese lover. When he refuses to go against his family’s wishes, Lucia must survive on her own – eventually opening a courtesan house that caters to both East and West. The story continues with Lucia’s daughter, Violet, unrecognized by her father’s fa Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ 1.5 Stars An epic mother/daughter saga that spans 50 years. The Valley of Amazement tells the story of Lucia, who becomes pregnant as a teen and leaves her family in hopes of marrying her Chinese lover. When he refuses to go against his family’s wishes, Lucia must survive on her own – eventually opening a courtesan house that caters to both East and West. The story continues with Lucia’s daughter, Violet, unrecognized by her father’s family she becomes a virgin courtesan at 12, but constantly hopes to find love, marriage and happiness. The tale ends with Violet’s daughter, Flora, who may be the only person who can bring these wounded women back together. I’m fairly certain I had an “it’s not you, it’s me” moment with this book. After reading several works by Amy Tan, I am ready to admit, I just don’t like her writing. The Valley of Amazement, like all of Amy Tan’s books, can be summarized quite simply: The difference between this and her other books? Instead of this book reminding me of Tan’s other works, it reminded me of something else That something is called Memoirs of a Geisha. Now I read Geisha about 150 years ago, so it’s probably not nearly as good as I believed it to be at the time, but I have a feeling I'd still find it to be better than this one. Good lord with the so many pages and words and never ending misery and need for editing. Add to that a host of characters that I absolutely COULD. NOT. STAND. and once again I feel let down by Amy Tan. I will own up to the fact that I am not a book-clubby-book kind of gal and millions of others will find this to be Tan’s greatest masterpiece. To that I say more power to you. It was just not my cup of tea.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    I read the other reviews and I don't know what I'm missing but this book was not 5 star worthy. It was brilliant in places but tedious in others. It all felt TOO contrived and TOO predictable. WARNING SPOILER ALERT IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS: Amy Tan likes to address the mother daughter relationship and does so again in this book although I could not relate. I would do ANYTHING to find my child even if I was told she was dead. As I read the book I couldn't help but feel like we were romanticizing I read the other reviews and I don't know what I'm missing but this book was not 5 star worthy. It was brilliant in places but tedious in others. It all felt TOO contrived and TOO predictable. WARNING SPOILER ALERT IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS: Amy Tan likes to address the mother daughter relationship and does so again in this book although I could not relate. I would do ANYTHING to find my child even if I was told she was dead. As I read the book I couldn't help but feel like we were romanticizing prostitution and that good prostitutes find a way out and live happily ever after (think Pretty Woman). I read the whole book and I learned a lot about courtesans and Shanghai. So if you like romance novels and if you like some historical fiction then this is not bad--not great--but not bad.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sheilah

    I have enjoyed many of Amy Tan's book in the past, and although this one was good, it isn't great. I found that the book went into too much of the minute details, and became too long for the story. Most books I don't mind how long the book is, but this book just seemed to drag on and that sometimes it almost felt like "filler" material. The story itself, however, is quite fascinating. Without giving too many spoilers, I especially liked how we switch from the daughter's viewpoint to the mother's v I have enjoyed many of Amy Tan's book in the past, and although this one was good, it isn't great. I found that the book went into too much of the minute details, and became too long for the story. Most books I don't mind how long the book is, but this book just seemed to drag on and that sometimes it almost felt like "filler" material. The story itself, however, is quite fascinating. Without giving too many spoilers, I especially liked how we switch from the daughter's viewpoint to the mother's viewpoint about 3/4s through the book. I very much enjoyed the way that all the women characters were written, and found them to well-rounded and intriguing. However, at the same time I found that all the men (with a few exceptions) were all cut from the same cloth and were very one dimensional. Overall, I would say that if you are big Amy Tan fan, you should get this. If you are interested in the life of a Chinese courtesan, this will certainly fill you in on the details. However, if you are the type of person who is easily bored or distracted away from a book, this wouldn't be the book for you. The person who loves details and tangents off the main story would like this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mags

    Amy Tan's writing is beautiful as always. She is a master storyteller, able to weave words together like a master painter at an easel. For me, reading her other works was like staring at a masterpiece hanging in a museum. They radiated emotion, made you think. They were poignant. This new book, not so much. It's like instead of painting her usual fare she painted a pair of socks. She's still a master, so it's the best damn painting of socks you've seen in your life. It's better than most of othe Amy Tan's writing is beautiful as always. She is a master storyteller, able to weave words together like a master painter at an easel. For me, reading her other works was like staring at a masterpiece hanging in a museum. They radiated emotion, made you think. They were poignant. This new book, not so much. It's like instead of painting her usual fare she painted a pair of socks. She's still a master, so it's the best damn painting of socks you've seen in your life. It's better than most of other junk out there. But as you're looking back and forth between her earlier works and this new one, you can't help but think: "Did it really have to be socks?" I'll have a hard time reviewing the plot without giving massive spoilers. Suffice it to say, I got the major themes. Women repeating the mistakes of their mothers. Hammered in over and over, that one was. Finding your family in the ones related by love, not blood. Reconciliation. All of this, great stuff. There we beautiful moments in the book. These were balanced out by moments where I wanted to strangle a character for being stupid, or when I felt the plot was being stretched out or details were being glossed over. The book balance itself out, good countering the bad. So I'm giving it 2.5 stars

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    I have read every Amy Tan book and loved them all. I was so excited when this book came out. For one thing, it was too long (almost 600 pages) and felt like the story dragged on and could have been much shorter and maybe more enjoyable. It was difficult to read at times because it was one of those books where I wasn't in love with the characters and they made all the wrong decisions. Also, it seemed like after each heartbreak the characters endured, they simply moved on with their lives. The liv I have read every Amy Tan book and loved them all. I was so excited when this book came out. For one thing, it was too long (almost 600 pages) and felt like the story dragged on and could have been much shorter and maybe more enjoyable. It was difficult to read at times because it was one of those books where I wasn't in love with the characters and they made all the wrong decisions. Also, it seemed like after each heartbreak the characters endured, they simply moved on with their lives. The lives of courtesans in China was portrayed graphically, as was the very few choices Chinese women had back in those days. I'm no prude, but the sex scenes were soft porn and there was way too much of it. I was disappointed in this book but I'm still glad that I read it. I would never miss an Amy Tan book!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    This is a difficult book to review because there were parts I really loved and (too many) parts that I really hated. I thought that all of the details surrounding life as a courtesan were just unnecessary and entirely too graphic. Overall I thought the book was too long, tedious and boring in places and in need of quite a bit of editing. But I also loved the detail about life in Shanghai and Chinese culture and food and customs. There were lots of beautiful rich descriptions and I felt like a lea This is a difficult book to review because there were parts I really loved and (too many) parts that I really hated. I thought that all of the details surrounding life as a courtesan were just unnecessary and entirely too graphic. Overall I thought the book was too long, tedious and boring in places and in need of quite a bit of editing. But I also loved the detail about life in Shanghai and Chinese culture and food and customs. There were lots of beautiful rich descriptions and I felt like a learned a lot about Chinese history and culture from reading this book. Lastly, the story of mother-daughter relationships and how complicated they can be were moving and in and of itself made the book worth reading.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rachelle Ayala

    Dramatic epic story during a turbulent and transitional time in China's history. The main character, Violet Minturn, is a young girl raised in a courtesan house, where women are courted for sexual favors. As expected, Violet's life is fraught with drama and tragedy. She's fatherless, enjoys spying on the courtesans as they're having sex with their visitors and is a lonely child attached to her cat. Tan has a really good eye for descriptions and went into lengthy detail to describe every setting an Dramatic epic story during a turbulent and transitional time in China's history. The main character, Violet Minturn, is a young girl raised in a courtesan house, where women are courted for sexual favors. As expected, Violet's life is fraught with drama and tragedy. She's fatherless, enjoys spying on the courtesans as they're having sex with their visitors and is a lonely child attached to her cat. Tan has a really good eye for descriptions and went into lengthy detail to describe every setting and person that the two main characters encounter. The first 75% of the book is written in Violet's first person point of view. Even though there is a lot of interesting historical detail, I found it strange that a young girl would observe and note so much detail about furnishings and locations. Lots of disasters happen to Violet, including being kidnapped from her mother and stuck in a house of prostitution, but Violet spends paragraph after paragraph describing the setting, furniture, business model and competition for the new house she finds herself imprisoned in. It was almost like she was an impartial observer to her own story and so intrigued by the political machinations of a house of ill repute that she didn't have time for emotion. I thought to myself, she got over that rather quickly. Although she suffers heartbreak after heartbreak, she is still naive enough to be tricked and betrayed by a slew of sleazy characters. We learn that the same thing happened to her mother years ago. She also imagined people were more trustworthy than they were. Violet's best friend, Magic Gourd, was the only constant in her life. She was the Tiger Mom to Violet, eager to make her the best courtesan ever. She pushed her to practice singing, taught her sexual techniques, told her stories and folk tales to please men, hired actors to help her learn her trade, sewed gowns for her, shopped for jewelry for her, checked out the suitors, and basically plotted and planned Violet's debut into the world of high end prostitution. As a typical Tiger Mother, she was disappointed when Violet was not voted Top Ten Beauty, and vowed to have her try harder the next year. I enjoyed the short-lived romance Violet had with Edward, an American, but as is typical in Amy Tan's books, no happiness lasts long. This book read like a history lesson mixed with graphic sexual descriptions with laugh out loud names for sexual organs: stem, petals, gates, sword, scabbard, and pudendum. Most of the sexual scenes bordered on disgusting, especially the violent ones. And Violet never really reacts to the pain and humiliation she endures. She's too busy describing the dents on the table, or the small pieces of lint on the rug, or the seams on the curtains. While I read the book eagerly, it was hard to connect to the main characters because they were too distant. They were more focused on storytelling than allowing the reader to experience through their eyes. The male characters were cardboard and generally a bunch of jerks, with Edward perhaps the only one with any redeeming qualities. Violet and Edward's romance was sweet and had some poignant moments, but passed away too quickly. [spoilers follow] The narration at 75% from Violet's mother, Lulu or Lucia, was all backstory and in my opinion not needed. We already knew what had happened to Violet and her baby brother. We know things went wrong with her relationship to Violet's father, and I felt we didn't really need to know all the details of her seducing him, and her cold relationship with her parents. Finally, I found it unbelievable that a shrewd madam like Lulu would so EASILY be tricked by Fairweather [in the turning point of the story] because darnit! This is not the first child who was stolen by a man she trusted! Didn't she have inklings of deja vu? Or thought to herself, I don't hand over a child to a man who says we'll meet on board the ship because years ago, I handed a baby to a man who said he'd take him to visit his family and never returned. And get this, the reason she's on the ship is so she can go to San Francisco to see this son who was kidnapped. But never once does she suspect her daughter would be stolen. This trickery could be seen by the reader a mile away, but because it is a necessary plot point, Lulu had to be temporarily blinded to the sneaky man who no one trusted, especially her side kick who warned her about it. [Incidentally, years later, Violet also persists on being easily duped despite Magic Gourd's repeated predictions of disaster. Like mother, like daughter?] Plot threads were also dropped and never revived. The entire plot hinges on Violet's abduction because her mother wanted to go to San Francisco to see the son who was kidnapped, but after Lulu returns home, she decided she didn't feel like seeing this son anymore because she grieves for her daughter who the scoundrels told her was killed while crossing a street. Lulu, we must remember, is a sophisticated madam in Shanghai where lies flow like wine. After arriving in San Francisco, she receives a telegram from her best friend/sidekick saying her daughter has died and she believes it and stays in San Francisco without even once going back to Shanghai to investigate. Lulu has ALL these contacts with men who frequent the courtesans in Shanghai. If she were to return, she would no doubt have ferreted out the truth, that her daughter [who was well known as the Eurasian courtesan of high demand] was a star vying to be one of the top beauties. She was even mentioned in the mosquito press. True, Lulu didn't have internet and google, but at the same time, Chinese people talk, servants gossip, and it wouldn't take a genius to go back to Shanghai to look for Violet's grave and find her instead plying her trade as a high demand courtesan. Add to the fact that Violet's father knew Violet was still alive AND he knew Lulu was distraught about losing Violet AND he lived in San Francisco where Lulu was, and you're telling me in what, 20 years, he never once lets Lulu know their daughter is alive because Violet once told him she hates her mother for abandoning her? So he respects her wishes not to talk about her mother anymore??? Can we just knock that man over the head with a 2 by 4 for stupidity? The other problem I had was plot structure. The rising tension was the question: will Violet ever find her mother again? Will she ever escape from the courtesan trade and later from her abusive husband? Will she find her daughter who had been kidnapped and brought to America? But the answer, when it came was already a letdown. After the daring escape from Moon Pond, Violet is going through her late husband's belongings when she conveniently finds a letter from her father saying her mother is sad that she lost Violet and never cared about the son she crossed the ocean to seek. Violet decides to contact her mother and find out her side of the story. They correspond and then her mother helps her find her daughter whom she easily locates and moves to their neighborhood. However, years literally go by from the time her daughter is seven until her daughter is a college student before they finally get together because the daughter was snooping while her adopted mother was away and found some letters intercepted by her adopted mother and decided to write back. The ending is a long set of drawn-out narratives as each woman tells the other two a summary of their life story, with Violet's daughter being the last one to speak. Lulu and Violet's daughter go back to America and Violet, Magic Gourd, and Violet's third husband stay behind. It was rather a sad, plodding ending. Although this may seem like a critical review, I gave it 5 stars for the historical detail, richness of description and extensive research that went into it. It is also literary fiction and not genre fiction, so I didn't want to mark it down because it didn't have the plot and character elements of genre fiction [i.e. pacing, likeable characters, ending with all threads tied up.] The tragedy of these women is compounded by their inability to discern duplicity and their naive wish to put their trust in a man (basically an illusion), so while I might have made fun of them for not standing up for themselves or being more suspicious, their yearning for love and acceptance overwhelmed the advice of their sidekicks and the story ends in a way that resigns each woman to their fate. The American in me wishes for a fairytale ending, but the Chinese in me knows that happiness is fleeting and we need to grab ahold and savor those nuggets and be content.

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