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Book Review: The Valley of Amazement

By Edited Aug 29, 2016 1 0


A Chinese-American girl named Violet Minturn grew up in a famous courtesan house run by mother, Lucia. After the chaotic fall of the Qing Dynasty, Violet and her mother were forced to leave Shanghai for a new life in San Francisco.
Lucia's estranged lover took this opportunity to steal Violet and sell her to a rival courtesan house. Before they boarded the American-bound boat, Violet got separated from her mother and found herself thrown in a courtesan house. Violet believed that her mother abandoned her and resented her for the betrayal. She would eventually be trained as a virgin courtesan in the following months to come.
Violet met her old friend Magic Gourd, who was a former courtesan in her mother's house. Magic Gourd became her mentor and attendant. Eventually, Violet's virginity was bought by a rich patron, and later, a series of relationships with other men ensued. She came to accept her life as a courtesan, and longed for a future marriage with one of her clients. Despite her acceptance, she still held a grudge against her mother, whom she believed abandoned her.


Although the book is criticized by some readers to be a disappointing work from Amy Tan, I find this book to be really engrossing. Being similarly part-Chinese and part-foreign makes me connect to the protagonist even more. The situation of having both parts of two different cultures often leads to a sense of loss and a desire to belong. This question about identity is exactly what Violet has to struggle with.
There were certain parts of the books that were quite boring, wherein I was so eager to know about the next event but was suddenly cut short by another facet of the story I was not yet ready to learn about. The intermission was long that made it a bit tiring to read.
Yet, the way Amy Tan described the courtesan houses in great detail, as well as the Chinese customs, were worthy to be applauded. It could be clearly seen how much time and effort the author had spent for her research about the background where her story took place. I was able to take a glimpse of life during the Qing dynasty and the rise of the new Republic, as well as the upheavals that arose from anti-foreigners sentiments.
What might fans claim to be lacking in this book from the rest of Amy Tan's books was the depth of mother-daughter relationship theme. While this book still tackled about mother-daughter relationship, the impact it delivered was not as strong as from that of her other works. But I think the focus of the story is much more than that, that is, Chinese life during the past era and its oppressive nature towards women.
The protagonist was self-centered and spoiled, who later grew up to be a very strong, brave, and admirable woman. Sadly, her character development wasn't very much emphasized and instead the novel focused more on her life events.
Reading the book gave me a feeling that I was reading an epic, where so many events took place in Violet's life. It was written by the first person, so it also felt like I was reading a diary in a way. The viewpoint switches from Violet to her mother Lucia, and at some parts to Magic Gourd.
I found some turn of events to be unconvincing and unrealistic. It was, after all, a work of fiction. It didn't bother me much as I enjoyed the book overall anyway.
If you are very much interested in Chinese culture as well as about the life of a courtesan, you will surely appreciate this book. Too many details might turn some readers off, but I personally don't find the details a deal-breaker. It allows me to picture the events more clearly, as if I'm transported back into their time. 
Despite some flaws, the enjoyment it gives me is enough reason to give this book a five-star rating.


The Valley of Amazement Lyra Kua 2014-09-23 5.0 0 5
The Valley of Amazement
Amazon Price: $16.99 $1.99 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 29, 2016)
Author: Amy Tan
Genre: Historical Fiction
Year: 2013
Pages: 608


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