Summary and book reviews of The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement

By Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2013,
    608 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2014,
    448 pages.

    Publication Information

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Book Reviewed by:
Judi Sauerbrey

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About this Book

Book Summary

Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement is 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.

Chapter 1
Hidden Jade Path

Shanghai
1905–1907
Violet

When I was seven, 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.

My mother named me Violet after a tiny flower she loved as a girl growing up in San Francisco, a city I have seen only in postcards. I grew to hate my name. The courtesans pronounced it like the Shanghainese word vyau-la—what you said when you wanted to get rid of something. "Vyau-la! Vyau-la!" greeted me everywhere.

My mother took a Chinese name, Lulu Mimi, which sounded like her American one, and her courtesan house was then known as the House of Lulu Mimi. Her Western clients knew it by the English translation of the characters in her name: Hidden Jade Path. There were no other first-class courtesan houses that catered to both Chinese and Western clients, many of whom were among the wealthiest in foreign ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Amy Tan did extensive research on courtesan culture in Shanghai during the turn of the twentieth century, making The Valley of Amazement her most extensively researched book by far. Do you feel like the book effectively transported you to that world? If so, what details were the most helpful? If not, what was lacking or felt anachronistic to you?

  2. Amy Tan describes the sexual acts of the courtesans and their clients in unflinching detail. Do you feel that the level of detail in these scenes helps to deepen the portrayals of the courtesans? Do the descriptions of the more quotidian aspects of their lives do as much to develop their characters as do the frank depictions of their sexual acts?

  3. Though...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Written in flowing prose that sweeps the reader down an adventurous path from late nineteenth century America to the cusp of World War II in China, this is a portrayal of strong women you will not soon forget. The Valley of Amazement is well worth the long wait.   (Reviewed by Judi Sauerbrey).

Full Review (1142 words).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

The choice to cram [many plot threads] into the last 150 pages makes the story unnecessarily confusing. Nonetheless, Tan's mastery of the lavish world of courtesans and Chinese customs continues to transport.

Kirkus Reviews

Tan is a skilled storyteller...A satisfyingly complete, expertly paced yarn.

Library Journal

Starred Review. This utterly engrossing novel is highly recommended to all readers who appreciate an author's ability to transport them to a new world they will not forget.

Booklist

Starred Review. Ultimately, Tan’s prodigious, sumptuously descriptive, historically grounded, sexually candid, and elaborately plotted novel counters violence, exploitation, betrayal, and tragic cultural divides with beauty, wit, and transcendent friendships between women.

Reader Reviews
annielong

It is clear that Amy Tan read Daniel DeFoe
I am a HUGE Amy Tan fan. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, all of her previous books. But...The Valley of Amazement was a HUGE let down. The more I read the more I was convinced that she was ripping off Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders. To many similarities, and for...   Read More

D M Parks

Worth The Wait
I am an avid reader with a preference for all books set in Asia. Anyone who has read Ms. Tan's prior works knows she is a excellent story teller with an exceptional command of language. Reading THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT I found that I did not just ...   Read More

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Sex! Now That I Have Your Attention...

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...

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