The Valley of Amazement Book Review

The Valley of Amazement: Book Review by Arlene
3 stars for The Valley of Amazement
The Valley of Amazement Book Review


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.


You can get a copy of Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement here or listen to it free with an Audible trial.

Please join us in our conversation on The Valley of Amazement book club discussion questions. We would love to hear your thoughts on the book!

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20 thoughts on “The Valley of Amazement Book Review

  1. I have Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club and I think it was a great book. I like the insight into Chinese culture in her books. I don’t think that I would enjoy a book that is too graphic with descriptions of sexual abuse and cruelty. As always, thanks for your honest review.

    1. Great to hear from you Yvonne! The Joy Luck Club is my all time favorite book by Amy Tan. The Valley Of Amazement was very descriptive in it’s content so we found it to be a bit too harsh for some readers. This book did educate the reader of that period in time and that culture and what those women had to endure. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Not the sort of book I would consider but I do find Chinese culture interesting.

    Is the courtesan similar in Chinese and Japanese culture? I’ve read Arthur Golden’s Memoir of a Geisha and found that very good.

    1. Hi Peter!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      I find Chinese culture very interesting too 🙂

      There are quite a few differences between the Chinese and Japanese courtesan culture and when you read The Valley of Amazement you’ll see the differences especially since you’ve read Memoirs of a Geisha.

      I personally find the Chinese culture very harsh with the feet binding…..

      Let me know what you think when you read it. 🙂

  3. I have heard about this author but have never read any of her works myself. I am looking forward to trying one. I am sorry that you found this a little disappointing because although it was informative and taught you a lot, it seems that sometimes it lost itself in the details which meant you couldn’t fully appreciate it for what it was…

    1. Hi Olivia!
      When you do read Amy Tan for the first time I would suggest starting with The Joy Luck Club and as a side note, the movie was great and the book is even better. I saw the movie first and mentioned to a friend who said the book is even better. She was right. When I finished The Valley Of Amazement I really was glad I read it even though the graphic parts were a bit too much in my opinion.

      Hope to hear from you again!

  4. Hey Arlene!

    Really well written review as usual! I love to learn anything new especially if it was about other country’s history, but the too detailed graphics would probably ruin my book experience. I have a problem sometimes with continuing reading some books sometimes if I lost interest for a moment.

    1. Hello Basem, I agree with you as historical fiction is my favorite genre also.

      This novel goes into great detail in that regard. Initially I loved the book but was finding it difficult at times to continue deep into it. I am glad I did finish reading it because if I didn’t I would have kept wondering how it all ended.
      The Valley Of Amazement was a great effort by Amy Tan and I wanted to acknowledge that.

      Thanks for your comments Basem!

  5. Thank you for the review, Arlene. It’s always very hard for me to read about the subjugation of young females (or really humans in generally). It sounds like while this book atmospherically wasn’t so easy to endure, it still offered insight into the culture of this world.

    1. Hi Lonna!
      Thank you for your comments.

      The Valley Of Amazement was a very long book filled with many historical facts into the world of the courtesan women. This way of life became a way to survive during this period of Chinese history. The mother daughter relationship was interesting to me in the fact that the two lives were so intricately intertwined and their destinies similar. Reading about abuse of any sort is never pleasant and I felt could have been presented but not so graphically. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  6. Thank you for writing this review on Amy Tan.

    I have been meaning to read her work for a while but not really had the time.

    No excuses really as today I have enough time in the mornings now and I should take the time to read the work of talented authors.

    I especially want to learn how writers can get their readers into a state of frenzy and from your review, I’d better take your advice : )


    1. Hi John Thank you so much for your comments. We always give our readers our honest reviews and I for one always finish a book I start. Amy Tan is always worth it so save this one for when you have the time. The Joy Luck Club is where to start with Amy Tan. Thanks again!

  7. Hi Arlene,

    I read Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club many years ago and I still have it in my collection of books. Her books have a heavy dose of Chinese culture.

    I agree that overly graphic details of sexual scenes and abuse will reduce the enjoyment of the book. From your review, I think I would prefer her other books.

    1. Hello Yvonne!
      If you are a fan of Amy Tan I think you would agree about The Valley Of Amazement. While I was reading it I thought this is not her usual style and felt she struggled with getting it altogether. She starts out with the daughter then goes back to the story of the mother then goes on to how the mother gets involved with finding the granddaughter. Similar in style to The Joy Luck Club but not on the same level.

      Thank you for your comments!

  8. Hi Arlene

    I haven’t ready any Amy Tan books before and this certainly sounds interesting. I have only watched a movie with Christian Bale in that featured courtesans, it was a war movie and very sad. I can’t remember what that was called though.
    Thanks for the warning about how graphic it is. I still think I would like to read The Valley of Amazement.

    1. Hello Lynne!
      Christian Bale is a great actor and I think I would like to research finding that movie. Thanks for mentioning it. I think you would appreciate the effort Amy Tan put into writing this novel and I am sure you would also like reading The Joy Luck Club and would suggest reading it first. I find the Chinese culture fascinating. Another author to check out would be Lisa See. She is also worth reading.


  9. Hello Emma,
    if you are a fan of Amy Tan you should pick this one up. I am glad I saw it through to the end even though it became tedious at times. I learned a lot about the Chinese family culture in that time period in regard to how they viewed their children’s place in the family.

    The strength of the women portrayed in this book was remarkable. It was the graphic sexual content that became a bit too much in my opinion.

    If you do pick it up I would be so happy to hear your opinion.

    Thanks Emma!

  10. Interesting, I’ve heard of this book before (I’ve written about Chinese literature myself) and have considered reading it. I wasn’t aware Asian courtesan culture was so complicated.

    You mentioned that you didn’t know if you would be able to see the book through to the end, was it slow to read then or the graphic sex? I ask because I’m looking for another book to read about China so this is pretty helpful.

    1. Hello Ryan!
      The Asian Courtesan Culture was presented in great detail in this novel. Amy Tan is a very skilled writer and presented it very well.

      I found the book to be too long at times in regard to the descriptive narrative. At those times it felt like it went on and on. I did not find it a slow read and actually it was a page turner for me most of the time but those times I felt could have been a lot shorter with getting her point across and moving on.

      The graphic sexual detail was on the borderline of being pornographic and not in Amy Tan’s usual skilled narrative.

      Thanks for your comments Ryan.

  11. I love Amy Tan, Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife are two of my favorites. I did not know she had come out with a new one, it looks interesting. Thanks for your review, even though you had a hard time getting through the whole thing I still think I will pick it up to read.

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