Sex! Now That I Have Your Attention...: Background information when reading The Valley of Amazement

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Valley of Amazement

By Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Nov 2013,
    608 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2014,
    448 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Judi Sauerbrey

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Sex! Now That I Have Your Attention...

Print Review

No doubt about it. There is something about sex.

Old Shanghai ad In Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement, sex is used as an instrument of power by the women protagonists. As Little Violet begins her career as a courtesan, she is given this piece of advice: "Always remember, you are creating a world of romance and illusion...you must learn all the arts of enticement and maintain a balance of anticipation and reticence..."

Would that we could claim that balance in our fast-paced modern world! Sex lures us into movie houses and on to the Internet; it creates top picks on the New York Times bestseller list; it is the favorite marketing tool for a variety of products from lingerie to socket wrenches; and it is the basis for what has long been designated "the world's oldest profession."

In Violet's world, in the carefully cultivated scenario of a first-class "flower house," as the brothels are euphemistically called, the object is to create an erotic escape for men and to attain what Magic Gourd calls the "Four Necessities" for herself: jewelry, furniture, a seasonal contract with a stipend, and a comfortable retirement.

Sex is a great paradox of human behavior.

We speak of fallen women but never fallen men. Many of us know the term "Soiled Doves," but there are no references that I know of to "Dirty Hawks." Rather these men become "players" or "studly dudes."

We react with self-righteous indignation to Miley Cyrus naked on a wrecking ball, and tsk, tsk at such unladylike behavior, yet hit YouTube millions of times to watch her do it over and over again. The man who is the recipient of Miley's twerking favors is not tsked at – no doubt he's considered the victim of this young temptress's wiles. Similarly, the man who makes the highest bid for the privilege of deflowering Violet, is not looked down upon or condemned. Rather he is a hero to be envied.

In Old Shanghai there used to be a yearly contest to choose the "Top Ten Beauties" among the comeliest courtesans. They were pictured on posters and in the newspapers in an interesting parallel of our nationally televised beauty contests.

Whether we wish to admit it or not, sex seems to lie at the very center of who we are as human beings. The Puritans taught us to hate it; the Victorians told us to put a corset on it; Freud counseled that we stop suppressing it.

The dilemma of sex will always be with us, whether couched in blatant modern terms or depicted in Amy Tan's carefully separated venues of home/family/business and the finely orchestrated sex industry. All of us then, like the souls in the first circle of Dante's Inferno, are blown about on the winds of desire, which deliver some of our greatest pleasures and some of our deepest pains.

A 1930s Shanghai advertisement, author unknown

Article by Judi Sauerbrey

This article was originally published in November 2013, and has been updated for the July 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.