Title: The Valley Of Amazement
Author: Amy Tan
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Published: July 10th, 2014
No. Of Pages: 589
In turn-of-the-century Shanghai, Violet Minturn is raised by her American mother in the city’s most renowned courtesan house. When the revolution comes, a cruel deception forces Violet to become a virgin courtesan.
The Valley of Amazement is the story of three women bound by blood and betrayal. But it is Violet’s determination to forge her own destiny that propels this bittersweet tale of family secrets, changing identities and lost love.
Just after finishing this book what I felt about it was: “What an emotional ride!” A rich cast of characters who are complex and yet maintain all the subtlety in their nature is one thing you’ll observe while reading this book. It deals with the affecting depictions of mothers and daughters, full of love, trust, and pain. Three generations of strong women narrate their stories as they struggle to survive all that life throws at them.
I wanted to feel without worry that I was more important than anyone else in her life.
Set mostly in China, this book spans four decades from the turn of the 20th century, taking you to places from a buzzing city like Shanghai to an eerily isolated village called Moon Pond. In 1897, Lucretia (Lulu) Minturn takes a bold decision in her life that would change the lives of coming generations to escape from her conventional family which consists of a mother who studies insects which are nearly dead for 100 years and a father who makes love with other women but doesn’t give attention to his daughter. She comes to the excitement of Shanghai thinking that a painting called The Valley of Amazement is a sign for her to start a new life. But, she soon realizes that the life she imagined in Shanghai was nothing but a mere illusion.
As a strong willed woman, she goes forward to create a life of her own by setting up a prestigious and first-class courtesan house called Hidden Jade Path which brings both American and Chinese business men under one roof. Lulu gives birth to a baby girl – Violet, who is torn between her half-American half-Chinese breeding.
I had once expected happiness and lately had received only disappointments, one after the other. I now expect disappointment and prayed to be proven wrong.
During the dissolution of the Ching Dynasty, Violet who is a young 14 year-old girl got separated from her mother Lulu by a trickster named Fairweather, also a lover of Lulu. She was sold to a first-class courtesan house as a virgin courtesan and given a life which she didn’t willingly choose. Her “defloration” is auctioned to the highest bidder.
With nothing but her strong will to change her fate and the poisonous thoughts that filled her child-like heart that her mother abandoned her because she is a mixed race, made her a stubborn woman.
If a man received even a glance from her penetrating eyes, he was enthralled. I saw that time and again. She made each man feel he was special to her.
Just when she thought everything was going well after she found her love, she is forcibly separated from her daughter – Flora, a baby, she was again thrown back into a life filled with uncertainties. She takes another chance and falls for a liar who promises her a wholesome life in an isolated village called Moon Pond. She later comes to know that that was another illusion she was tricked into. With a never-give-up attitude, she finds herself again and tries to re-write her own future by altering her thoughts and the longing to see Flora, again.
Tan’s artful way of depicting the life of courtesans was stunningly real and painful, sometimes unbelievable, and truthfully heart-wrenching. My heart goes out to the women who were forced in to the sex trade during that century. Although Tan weaves the plot not to glorify the sex trade, but as it was nothing more than business, you’ll be shown individual lives of courtesans who suffer to survive in a city which is not so easy to survive without a man in her life.
If you’re a diverse reader like me, who wants to know more about lives of people in other countries, other centuries, of the past, of the oppressed, then this is one of such books which will make you realize how different and tragic a women’s life can be in Shanghai, China during 20th century.