Fiction Valley of Amazement Omnivore review

Published on November 4th, 2013


The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

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Blurb: In fin de siècle Shanghai, Violet Minturn grows up at Hidden Jade Path, the city’s most exclusive courtesan house. But when revolution comes, she is separated from her mother and forced to become a “virgin courtesan.” Both Chinese and American, Violet moves between these cultural worlds, becoming a shrewd businesswoman who deals in seduction and illusion. But her successes belie her private turmoil. Violet’s need for answers propels her on a quest of discovery: a journey to make sense of her life, to right the wrongs of the past – to find love requited. (Fourth Estate, 2013)

Krys Lee, The Financial Times

Just as Violet is a complex character beyond her Asian and white ethnic roots, Tan’s large-hearted, florid and ragged tale goes beyond casual stereotypes. This is one writer’s particular idiom and vision of the world – and within that she offers us a rich cast of characters who both repel and compel.

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Katy Guest, The Independent

“In a typically Tan scenario, Violet’s life echoes her mother’s, and 14 years later her own daughter is tricked from her, despite her fiercely protective love for her. “The Chinese midwife solemnly announced that my baby was a girl … I cried for the pain she would share with me.” The narrative follows Violet’s journey – literally up mountain and metaphorically through the valley of the title – to find her mother and daughter and a place for herself between two cultures. But the real weight of the story lies in Violet’s establishing her identity somewhere between east and west, when each disenfranchises women equally.”

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Lesley Downer, The New York Times

“This is just the beginning of a long and ultimately heart-wrenching narrative that covers more than four decades and moves from Shanghai in the 1920s and ’30s to the Hudson River Valley to a mountain village in rural China, with an interlude of backtracking in late-19th-century San Francisco. The epic history of these times is woven into the complex background of the story of three generations of women, its events seen as they would have seen them. Their private lives and private pain take center stage.”

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John Sutherland, The Times

“The first half of the novel is a guided tour of the traditional Shanghai sex industry. Thereafter plot kicks in … Tan’s fan base, who have, by the usual hooks and crooks, got early copies, are somewhat miffed by the unexpected Fifty Shades crudity of this latest offering. There is certainly more about the cultivation of the courtesan pudenda than I personally relish, instructive as some readers may find it. But Tan’s fiction is, as always, hugely readable.”

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Harry Ritchie, The Daily Mail

“This had me befuddled at times as the book follows the intertwining stories of  both daughter and mother, from 19th century San Francisco to the curious enclave that was Shanghai’s International Settlement in the Thirties. But historic sweep mixes with erotic candour in a heady mix, brought to an excellent bake by the skillful Amy Tan.”

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Isabel Hilton, The Guardian

“At times Tan skates perilously close to the thin emotional ice of a Mills & Boon, with the narrative of lost love and lost children, but she is too astute a writer to fall through entirely. She is a brisk storyteller, and despite its flaws, The Valley of Amazement packs in enough drama to keep her readers going to the end.”

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Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“For all its bulk, The Valley of Amazement offers little historical detail outside its own cloistered world. But Shanghai rockets into the future, spoiling the elegant courtesan business with crude Western expectations of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. This is all exciting and harrowing — and sometimes even funny, in an exasperated “Oh, what fresh hell is this” kind of way. One section reads like a Chinese version of Cold Comfort Farm with bad sex. There are also hilariously detailed instructions on how to tell a story to men, how to get them to fall in love, how to nickname their private parts and how to manage the “Nine Urges” (seven more than I knew about). Even some of Violet’s relations with clients take on a zany rom-com vibe before plunging back into abuse.”

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