Amy Tan has done it again.
I believe I’ve read all of her books, so I made sure to purchase THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT last fall when it came out. I was a little backlogged with due reviews, so I read it in pieces over time (plus it is over 600 pages!). I loved this historical fiction, set in the past and also tied to the present, of turn of the 20th century Shanghai.
In the early 1900’s, Violet is the spoiled, young, half-American/half-Asian daughter of Lulu, the owner of a popular courtesan house in Shanghai. Violet is in the middle of everything, and though young, has a keen eye to the ways of courting done by the girls and her mother’s sharp business practices. A terrible event separates them, however, and Lulu goes to America thinking Violet is dead, while Violet is sold to a courtesan house and her virginity auctioned off when she is fifteen. The bulk of the story is Violet’s telling of her life and loves, from her childhood to her time as a courtesan, to her first love, her beloved husband and child (who is taken from her), and her disastrous second marriage. Violet is a smart woman and strives to maintain her dignity and her independence. Along with her lifelong friend, they struggle to break free of their oppression, and Violet dreams of being reunited with both her mother and her child.
While some of this story is also told from Lulu’s point of view, particularly the story line of how she met Violet’s father, most is told through Violet. I loved the character of Violet, who was plucky and fierce and courageous. I found the details of life as a courtesan quite interesting – I had always considered courtesan and prostitute as synonymous, but this story showed the subtle intricacies of being a courtesan, as well as the cultural differences and expectations of Chinese versus American experiences. I also learned of the political climate of the time (which I knew little about). One thing I would have preferred, though, was to have Lulu’s back story earlier in the book (it came in the last third and thus felt anachronistic to me). Also, after so much story, the ending seemed to wrap up rather quickly.
If you like Amy Tan’s writing, and have some time, then I recommend THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT.
I got mine from Amazon, where you can get yours, too!