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‘The Valley of Amazement’ is a destined classic

11/20/2013

BookCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Cathryn Lang

HarperCollins

11/05/13

$29.99

Fleet FeetAmes Chamber

589 pp.

When Amy Tan found an aged photograph of her grandmother, she was stunned to see that she was wearing the attire of a high-class courtesan in turn-of-the century China and labeled as one of the “Ten Beauties of Shanghai.” Though she never received confirmation that her grandmother was indeed a courtesan, all the evidence pointed in that direction. And with that discovery, the inspiration for this newest novel took root.

Lucia Minturn is a feisty American who owns one of the classiest courtesan houses in Shanghai in 1912. Her daughter, Violet, is of Chinese and American heritage. She is supremely spoiled and enjoys great freedom and privilege. Her comfortable life unravels when the Ching dynasty collapses and Lucia and Violet are separated through a betrayal. To survive, Violet is forced to become a virgin courtesan herself. A tumultuous life awaits her over the next two decades. As her life parallels that of her mother, she develops compassion and an understanding of her mother’s life choices.

The historical setting fascinated me. Many pivotal historical events over 40 years are woven into this story through the lives of multi-layered characters. Tan researched the lives of women in China, especially courtesans, during the early 20th century. She concluded the courtesans had more freedom than any other group of Chinese women. As Violet adapts to the many situations she is forced to endure in the Chinese culture, this becomes apparent. Yet she never gives up her self-respect or her spirit.

This has become my favorite Any Tan novel. As soon as I finished it, I reread it again to catch all the subtle details I missed the first time around. This is a book bound to become a classic. CV

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