Spanning decades and continents, Amy Tan’s novel The Valley of Amazement hooks the reader and does not let go. If you are planning on going on this ride, prepare to have days of your life devoted to this epic story and characters that will both break and warm your heart.
The novel opens with Violet Minturn at age seven exploring the exclusive courtesan house where her mother is the madam. Getting to know Violet as a little girl is key to the reader falling in love with her. Through her eyes, we roam the spacious and beautifully appointed house in the international settlement. We gawk through shudders at the courtesans busy at their craft. We experience the kidnapping and abandonment that leads her to the life of a virgin courtesan.
We fall in love. We fall in love again. We lose those most precious to us. Through it all we have a friend in Magic Gourd.
As she goes through tragedy after difficulty, we carry this little girl in our hearts. It is not until much later in the book that we learn about the circumstances of Violet’s birth, her Chinese father and the rebellion at the center of her mother’s journey.
Through Violet’s pilgrimage, we examine the harsh judgements of our own parents and our hearts soften as we experience being parents ourselves. We see how even the depth of our love cannot save us from some foolishness.
Tan, in familiar territory, explores how the bonds of mothers with daughters span decades and betrayals. Tan creates authentic characters who make believable mistakes.
Over the course of some 590 pages, we meet Lucia, Violet and Flora. Three women who have similar stories of abandonment and a chase for their identities. Tan uses the character’s names as one way to portray this chase. Neither Lulu nor Violet like their names and go through various stages of using nicknames.
All three women experience abandonment and even betrayal. For Violet we see this on both sides. We get to see through her eyes the supposed abandonment of her mom and subsequent life in the house of another madam. Through the eyes of Flora we see again the consequences of separation and the sweetness of reunion.
Friendship between the characters makes these horrible circumstances survivable.
As Amy Tan was researching for the book, she found a photograph of courtesans. She realized that one was wearing an ensemble identical to one her grandmother wore in one of her photographs. She became obsessed with researching the courtesan culture in Shanghai.
Published in 2013, Ms. Tan waited eight years to write her next book. Get your hands on a copy of this masterpiece. It upholds Ms. Tan’s reputation for weaving a gorgeous tale of redemption.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (November 5, 2013)
A native of the Mississippi Delta, Gigi McMurray is a nurse practitioner outside Nashville, a passionate, thoughtful reader, and a dog and boy lover. She is married with three boys and a daughter-in-law. Below is Gigi's beloved Skip.