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Summer Olympics Reading Challenge Update

Those of you who are regular followers of our blog know that we’ve been hosting a summer reading challenge based on the 2016 summer Olympics. With only four more days left in the challenge, we thought we’d post an update. Five teams of 5 people have been competing for a chance to win cool bookish prizes. Here’s how things are going… Read more

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

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The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
Published in: 2013
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★★
Find it here: The Valley of Amazement

Synopsis from Amazon (as Goodreads had too many spoilers): An expansive, heartbreaking novel from the internationally bestselling author of ‘The Joy Luck Club’.

In turn-of-the-century Shanghai, Violet Minturn is raised by her American mother, the mistress of 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, as she struggles to understand her heritage, it is Violet’s determination to forge her own destiny that propels this bittersweet tale of family secrets, changing identities and lost love.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I am counting this book for my read different challenge because the author is a female, first generation Asian American and the book is set in Shanghai (different from my own background and location).

I really loved the first 3/4 of this book as we followed Violet growing up in a high class courtesan house run by her American mother. We see how she copes with the change in circumstances that lead to her becoming a virgin courtesan herself.

The details about the life of the courtesans and the etiquette involved in courting a courtesan, as well as the details of what happens to the courtesans when they get older,  was detailed, colorful, and felt very genuine. The characters had a real depth, especially Magic Gourd, who becomes Violet’s best friend and mother figure. The clients were all different. Some were cruel, some kind, but all distinct from each other. The rival courtesans were portrayed as women who could understand each other and sympathise with each other but who would also stab each other in the back to save themselves. Jealousy and competition were rife and in a world where you are judged and valued by your beauty and the male attention you can get, this felt entirely believable.

I also liked the details about Chinese honour and the place of courtesans in family life. It was interesting to see what the change in regime meant for the foreigners who had made Shanghai their home.

I didn’t really enjoy the last 1/4 of the book which explained about the American side of the family. There was not so much depth to the descriptions of the landscape or to the characters and I was left feeling like this section was tacked on simply to tie up loose ends. I know some readers will love the ending, but I felt Violet’s story was enough on its own. That’s not to say the last 1/4 was bad. it just lacked the magic of the rest of the book.

Favourite Quotes:

“To save myself I destroyed another, and in doing so I destroyed myself”

“Only Americans think they have rights,” Magic Gourd said. “What  laws of heaven give you more rights and allow you to keep them? They are words on paper written by men who make them up and claim them. One day they will blow away, just like that.”

“How could any girl think this was a lucky life? And yet if I were Chinese and compared this life with all the possibilities, I, too, might believe over time that I was lucky to be here.”

“Remember this, Violet, when you step on the stage, you are not loved for who you are. When you stop off, you may not be loved at all.”

“I was most puzzled by my own reaction. No matter how American I was -or wanted to be-China was, in my heart, my homeland”

Who would like this book? I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha and to anyone with an interest in learning about Shanghai and the courtesan traditions. I would also recommend this to those who like strong female characters and the relationships between them.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Valley of Amazement

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read others by Amy Tan? Which books of hers are your favorites?