Amy Tan’s Tome   Leave a comment

The Valley of Amazement

At nearly 600 pages, Amy Tan’s recent novel, The Valley of Amazement, is not just long-awaited, it’s just long. Very long.

It’s the exhaustive story of Chinese courtesans, mothers, daughters, unattainable love, and mistakes repeated from one generation to the next. And, it’s so dang long. Tan clearly did her research to impart so much about the life of a courtesan. The trouble is that other authors have written on this topic much more succinctly. Lisa See comes to mind.

Two thirds of the work is told from Violet’s perspective, which begins when she is seven years old growing up in a Shanghai courtesan house run by her mother, Lucia, an American. Violet is initially unaware that her father, whom she has never met, is Chinese. At 14, Violet is sold to become a courtesan herself when her mother sets sail, unwittingly without her daughter, for San Francisco. Thus begins the lengthy downward spiral Violet endures as things go from worse to worse, interspersed with moments of rare happiness or brief tolerance to her life’s harsh realities. Much of what Violet endures is predictable.

The book’s final third provides Lucia’s view. By comparison, the brevity, although a relief, is puzzling. Yes, Violet is the focus, but this is a narrative about mother-daughter relationships. Even with Tan’s excessive details, Violet is an intriguing character as are several others. After spending so much time with them, they do find their way into our hearts; it just could have been sooner rather than later.

The Valley of Amazement

Three-and-a-half Bookmarks

Ecco/HarperCollins, 2013

589 pages


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