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The Valley of Amazement

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A sweeping, evocative epic of two women's intertwined fates and their search for identity, that moves from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog-shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese village.

Spanning more than forty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement resurrects pivotal episodes in history: from the collapse of China's last imperial dynasty, to the rise of the Republic, the explosive growth of lucrative foreign trade and anti-foreign sentiment, to the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of the foreign "Shanghailanders" living in the International Settlement, both erased by World War II.

A deeply evocative narrative about the profound connections between mothers and daughters, The Valley of Amazement returns readers to the compelling territory of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. With her characteristic insight and humor, she conjures a story of inherited trauma, desire and deception, and the power and stubbornness of love.

589 pages, Hardcover

First published November 5, 2013

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About the author

Amy Tan

116 books9,633 followers
Amy Tan (Chinese: 譚恩美; pinyin: Tán Ēnměi; born February 19, 1952) is an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships and what it means to grow up as a first generation Asian American. In 1993, Tan's adaptation of her most popular fiction work, The Joy Luck Club, became a commercially successful film.

She has written several other books, including The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter's Daughter, and a collection of non-fiction essays entitled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. Her most recent book, Saving Fish From Drowning, explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition into the jungles of Burma. In addition, Tan has written two children's books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series airing on PBS. She has also appeared on PBS in a short spot on encouraging children to write.

Currently, she is the literary editor for West, Los Angeles Times' Sunday magazine.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,015 reviews
Profile Image for Asa Dematteo.
5 reviews12 followers
November 18, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Nicole~.
198 reviews244 followers
September 10, 2016

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.
 photo image_zpscf994f45.jpg
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.

 photo image_zps552891dd.jpg
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).
Profile Image for Vicky.
136 reviews4 followers
December 4, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Jaidee.
581 reviews1,113 followers
June 12, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews716 followers
February 16, 2022
I actually really liked the book and I want to echo another reader's sentiment that this would make for a really good show or mini series. I can see why others might not have enjoyed it. The book is quite long and at times detailed in a way that might be tedious, though personally I found that aspect enjoyable because it really allowed me to lose myself in the book. It also focuses mostly on Violet and then towards the end it suddenly feels like we get all this information at once about Lucia, which made the transition feel abrupt. I think there were points the book felt slow. Her marriage to Perpetual really just made me want to start skimming ahead. The ending also felt unaligned with the rest of the book because it does leave off on a rather hopeful note with Violet and Magic Gourd both in stable situations which was at odds with what we saw happen to so many others in their situation through out the book. Regardless it was a really enjoyable read and I found myself unable to put it down.
Profile Image for Miss Melly.
93 reviews22 followers
December 6, 2013
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.

Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,033 reviews48.5k followers
November 12, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,062 reviews200 followers
November 4, 2013
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.
3 reviews
July 12, 2022
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.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,121 reviews1,203 followers
November 26, 2013
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.
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
830 reviews763 followers
November 6, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Ellis.
1,210 reviews136 followers
November 19, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Susanne Pari.
Author 4 books209 followers
September 12, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews671 followers
September 12, 2014
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.

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,736 reviews14.1k followers
November 2, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Denise.
417 reviews
November 25, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Helen.
15 reviews
April 23, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,009 reviews36k followers
April 9, 2014
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.
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:
Another Child?
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."
Profile Image for JoAnne Pulcino.
663 reviews59 followers
November 27, 2013

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.
Profile Image for Mary Lins.
845 reviews117 followers
November 5, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Lorna.
681 reviews367 followers
July 23, 2022
The Valley of Amazement is the latest multigenerational saga of love and loss and what constitutes a family as told during the tumultuous twentieth century amidst a backdrop of two world wars and other global conflicts by beloved author Amy Tan. The bonds that are held, sometimes fiercely, by family are sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes overwhelming. This is a story of Violet, raised by her Chinese-American mother in a first-class courtesan house in Shanghai. The strength of the bonds between mothers and daughters across time and continents is once again explored in this novel, a frequent theme of Amy Tan. Parts of it were quite enjoyable while some parts of the book seemed repetitious and overdone. All in all it certainly isn't one of Amy Tan's better works.
Profile Image for Laura.
475 reviews52 followers
August 14, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
1,520 reviews
September 23, 2013
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:
Profile Image for Maggi.
291 reviews8 followers
December 22, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,289 reviews35k followers
March 5, 2014
I torn between giving this book 3 stars and 3.5 stars. I liked this book but I have to say that I do not think it was as good as some of her previous work. I do agree with other reviewers that certain parts of this book dragged on and on and on....and then after all the *yawn* dragging the ending felt rushed to me. The book spans 50 years and mainly tells the life of Courtesans at the turn of the century. Amy Tan did her research and it shows but her extensive research was not enough to make me love this book. I did enjoy the back stories of Lucia and Magic Gourd the most. I found the beginning of the book to be my favorite. The middle of the book lagged for me. I liked both Violet and her Mother, Lucia's story lines. I also like Flora (Violet's daughter story line) But what I wanted more of was Magic Gourd. She was the most interesting character for me. Her back story was tragic and compelling. Violet's story was also tragic.
Profile Image for Pilar.
Author 4 books72 followers
December 15, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Lewis Weinstein.
Author 9 books495 followers
April 28, 2021
I have read about 6% ... so far, although it is nicely written, the main character is an observer, doing nothing ... I am impatient for that to change ... LATER ... it didn't seem to change so I stopped reading
Profile Image for Annie.
390 reviews1 follower
August 19, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,447 reviews7,542 followers
April 16, 2014
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

deja vu

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.
Profile Image for Lori.
132 reviews4 followers
February 16, 2016
Honestly, I should have never even picked up this book, but there was the author's name staring me in the face at the local library. "Amy Tan has a new book?" I cooed with surprise. I haven't read anything of hers in soooo long. Oh how I adored the Joy Luck Club and the Kitchen God's Wife. "The Valley of Amazement"...what a cool title. I won't even bother to read what this book is about. I trust Amy Tan to provide a sweeping historical saga about family, love, betrayal, loss, and perseverance. I was excited! Until I read the first chapter which introduces the main character, Violet, a young girl brought up by her hard-nosed mother in a courtesan house.

You know that feeling you get when you're on an amusement park ride you have no business being on? You sit in the cart with excitement until the tram starts ratcheting up that steep, steep hill. A lump forms in your throat because you know what's coming and then at the peak of the track, you see your fate. If only you could stop the ride!!

Thankfully, you can stop an Amy Tan novel any time you want and that is exactly what I did after Violet got sold to a courtesan house at age 14. I saw what was coming. A cursory flip through a few chapters confirmed my suspicions.

Sorry, but I don't find stories about pubescent girls being sexually abused by old men the least bit intriguing. Goodbye Valley of Amazement!!
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