Ever since The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan has not let us down. Her rich writing, her complicated characters, and her insight into the Chinese/American conundrum have given us a lot of good reading. Add The Valley of Amazement to her pile. This stunning book covers forty years and two continents. We see the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty and we learn about old Shanghai. It’s Shanghai 1812 and Violet Minturn is a “privileged daughter of the American madam running the most exclusive courtesan house. But the Ching dynasty is overturned and Violet is separated from her mother in a cruel act of chicanery.” (cover blurb) It takes forty years for her to find her mother again and also reunite with a daughter she lost.
Violet and her mother Lucia choose disasterous courses in life, but then manage to pull it together. There are some good loves, sad deaths, wealth and poverty, and journeys of discovery. The key is the connection between mothers and daughters. At times convoluted, humor, desire, drama , and deception pull together the huge narrative. There were times when I wished Lucia’s story was more intermixed between Violet’s tale. I think that would have given us more insight into both women’s saga. But it all ties up in the end satisfactorily, and the writing is stupendous.
p. 588 “On sleepless nights, when I could not bear my life, I thought of that ship and imagined I was aboard. I had been saved…….. But the ship never left, and I would have to disembark, and begin my life again each morning.”
The Valley of Amazement is a book, a painting, and a life journey.