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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 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.
Review: An Amazon Best Book of the Month, November 2013: For a hefty half of her gorgeous new novel, The Valley of Amazement, Amy Tan instructs us in the finer points of life as a courtesan in early 20th century China: expect and revel in sensual descriptions of the clothes, the customs, even the not-so-niceties of catering to rich men in a very regimented society. Lulu Minturn is a white Californian who’d run away with a Chinese painter, established the best courtesan house in Shanghai and given birth to a beautiful “Eurasian” (in the parlance of the time) daughter, Violet. Soon, either because she was tricked or deceitful, Lulu abandons Violet and flees back to America; history soon is in danger of repeating itself when Violet gives birth to her own daughter. (Eventually, the scene shifts to California, where the family searches for redemption and reconciliation.) Nobody does mother-daughter angst and cross cultural conflict better than Tan, who has been literally writing the book(s) on these topics for years. What makes this novel special is its meticulous language--readers may be struck by the juxtaposition of poetry and Anglosaxon equivalents in descriptions of courtesans’ sex lives--and its elucidation of the cultural upheavals at the time. This is as much a historical novel as it is a family story, at once intimate and sweeping, personal and political. You’ll have learned something by the end--and you’ll probably also be weeping. --Sara Nelson
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