I love Amy Tan’s writing, and in particular, I’m attracted to books about life in old China. The Valley of Amazement drew me in immediately. It’s a saga about an American woman who falls in love with a Chinese artist in San Francisco, and follows him to Shanghai around the turn of the last century.
The story of women who suffer in China is an old one, and typically authors keep the characters at arm’s length, because getting too close to them would make it difficult for a reader to accept their fate. I felt that Tan pulled the characters a little too close for comfort, because I had a very difficult time reading many parts of this book.
But that aside, the narrative was a real page-turner. The story is not told entirely chronologically. In the beginning Lucretia Minturn heads a first class courtesan house in Shanghai. Slowly, hints of her background come out, but the main story surrounds what happens to her and her 14 year old daughter. By the end of the novel, I was convinced that this could have been two books: the first being the story of Lucretia Minturn and the second being the story of her daughter, Violet. Since a good portion of this book takes place in a courtesan house (aka high class brothel), Tan spends a good portion exploring the sexual exploits of her characters. In my opinion she went a little overboard on the “soft porn,” but it didn’t ruin the book for me. Be warned, however, if you are sensitive to sexually explicit writing.
Despite these shortcomings, it was still a very entertaining work of historical fiction.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013