Dec 1, 2013

Book Review: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon!  I want to discuss this intriguing book I've just finished reading. 

Title: The Valley of Amazement: A Novel by Amy Tan
Published November 5, 2013; Ecco
Genre: historical novel

Comments: Finishing this novel has led me to read more of Tan's books and I have started The Kitchen's God's Wife, her second book after the popular Joy Luck Club. I seem better able to put myself into the cultural context of those first two books, more than I was able to the first time I tried reading them. The emphasis on superstition and ghosts and women who lived in a feudal environment was not something I understood very well or could relate to, as an example.

The Valley of Amazement is a novel about courtesans in early 19th century Shanghai, and revolves around a tense and tenuous mother-daughter relationship, as well as the lives of courtesans in China, their customs, formalities, behavior and norms. As I read along, I was reminded of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, then Puccini's Madame Butterfly without the tragic ending, and later on of the Chinese film Raise the Red Lantern, which is about women in a household with multiple wives. These themes are all in Tan's new book.

The second half of the book had its own drama and some excitement for a reader who loves a chase. There are themes of sisterhood among the "flower sisters" or courtesans who bond and help each other in difficult situations. There are themes of different kinds of love in men-women relationships, themes of reunion and forgiveness.  I can't get into specifics without revealing plot!

This was an enlightening as well as entertaining and informative book. It took me effortlessly into another time and place and culture through its characters' ups and downs during a dangerous and daring time in Chinese history.

Publisher's book description:
"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 new novel maps the lives of three generations of women connected by the mystery of an evocative painting known as "The Valley of Amazement."

Violet is one of the most celebrated courtesans in Shanghai.  Half-Chinese and half-American, she struggles to understand who she really is. Abandoned by her mother, Lucia, Violet's quest to truly love and be loved will set her on a path of danger and complexity.

Lucia, a willful American woman who was once herself the proprietress of Shanghai's most exclusive courtesan house, nurses her own secret wounds, which began when, as a teenager, she fell in love with a Chinese painter and followed him from San Francisco to Shanghai. Her search for redemption will bring her to a startling reunion.

Spanning fifty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement is a 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."

The book is set between 1905 to around 1937-38, just before the war broke out with the Japanese. The book ends there, but as a reader I wondered what could have happened had the novel continued. That's how real the characters became for me.

Thanks to Ecco for an ARE of this novel for review.


  1. Thanks for this review. I loved her very first book, but I haven't read anything else by Tan.

    Here's my Sunday Salon.

  2. Superb commentary Harvee.

    I think that one of the wondrous things about literature is how it brings us face to face with other cultures and ideas that we would not normally relate to. Sometimes if we really stick with it, as you describe that you are doing with Tan's books, something eventually connects.

  3. I need to read something else by Amy Tan...I loved The Joy Luck Club, even the movie.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts...and for visiting my blog.

  4. I don't think I've read anything by this author but I've heard great things about The Joy Luck Club.

  5. I haven't read Amy Tan, but I might like this.

    Joy's Book Blog

  6. I have not read Amy Tan yet but I want to!

  7. I watched The Joy Luck Club, but never have read the book.

  8. THANKS for your great review and comments.

    I have had this book on my shelf since the BEA this past spring, but haven't gotten to it. It sounds VERY good. I need to get to it soon.

    THANKS again.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog

    Another giveaway on my blog if you want stop by that post too.

  9. This sounds good. I've read several of Amy Tan's books and always enjoy them.

  10. This dos sound wonderful, Harvee. Amy Tan is an eloquent and elegant writer. Lovely review and presentation!

  11. I've loved all of Tan's previous books, so I can't wait to dig into this one. So glad you enjoyed it.

  12. Wonderful review, I have a couple of her books waiting patiently on my bookshelf (this one included) and I just know I'm going to love them.

  13. Amy Tan is one of those authors I haven't had the chance to read yet! Maybe 2014 will be the year I finally get to read her books! :)

  14. I haven't read anything by Amy Tan yet. I love the book cover of this book.

  15. I adore Amy Tan's books and I keep eye balling this one every time I see it! I love your review, now I definitely have to read this one!


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