In essence, this immense novel examines the complex relationship between mothers and daughters.
It also examines the complex relationship between mixed races and mixed marriages.
It goes beyond relationships to include betrayals, confessions, lies and truths and realities to the strengths and weaknesses of women.
In the end, the struggle to survive wins.
This is a work of historical fiction.
The novel begins in Shanghai 1905. We meet Violet at age 7 who is the daughter of Lulu Minturn the only white woman who owns a first class courtesan house.
For the Western guests Hidden Jade Path was a social club with pleasures of billiards, card games, the finest cigars and brandy and a piano.
For the Chinese guests Hidden Jade Path provided the pleasures of a first class courtesan house. Protocols of courtship were followed. It was not a house of prostitution.
It was where East meets West in the Grand Salon which was common ground for businessmen of 2 worlds to meet. Within the doors the path to riches are revealed to all who have a minimum of ten thousand dollars to invest or whose influence is worth that. They had their standards.
The lives of Violet and her mother parallel each other as the years go by. They are abandoned, lied to, betrayed by men and are forced to find ways to survive beyond anything they would have thought possible.
It was hard at times to believe so many tragic things could happen to a mother and daughter and yet they survive to find each other again.
If you are not aware of the lives of the Asian courtesan women before you begin reading this work you will be more than knowledgeable when you finish the book.
It is more than graphic in sexual detail and the abuse of young girls sold into the way of life of a courtesan at a very young age. Long before any young girl should be aware of such things.
At times I found myself not enjoying this book any longer as it becomes more graphic in detail. That being said, the story line itself was very interesting to me as I learned something in the history of this subject that I never would have known.
The characterizations became real people in my mind and I believe that is why I found myself to be a bit disturbed by their experiences.
When a great author can transport you to another world and capture your attention, you never forget these books you love. Amy Tan, in The Valley of Amazement does that but, in my opinion, goes too far in the graphic sexual detail of cruelty and abuse so it took away the pleasure of reading an amazing book. I do feel this is an amazing book except for that.
The life of a courtesan woman is explicitly detailed. The competition between the courtesans themselves are revealed as you go along and the bond that grows between these women are richly portrayed.
They do not trust each other but as time goes by they only have themselves to protect and trust and believe in.
You will find yourself rooting for them to survive their struggles.
I have always thought of Amy Tan as my favorite author after reading The Joy Luck Club. It is still my favorite book of all time.
The Valley of Amazement is not on the same level. It became confusing at times although I did appreciate the insight into the Chinese culture.
The subject matter was at times extensive and disturbing and disjointed but the historical information I found to be on point.
I do appreciate the tremendous amount of research and work Amy Tan had to put into this book that I found myself continuing to read it based on that alone.
I felt she would tie it all up in the end, and she did.
I know it took Tan a long time to finish this novel and now I can understand why and I can understand how she could have become lost along the way to bring this story all together at the conclusion.
Writing a book about three generations of women in a complex society as China during the time period presented, across two continents, offered an insight into the strengths and weaknesses of all the characters.
I was glad to finally finish this book and at times I did not think I would see it through to the end.
I am glad I read it although I do not think this book would be an easy read for some.
I do not find it at all to be a beach read. Save it for those winter months when there is not much to do but curl up with a book that will keep you at least interested in seeing how it all turns out in the end.
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