Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (Audio)

"I, not anyone else can travel that road for you.  You must travel it by yourself.  It is not far.  It is within reach.  Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.  Perhaps it is everywhere - on water and on land."

Goodreads Summary: Moving between the dazzling world of courtesans in turn of the century Shanghai, a remote Chinese mountain village, and the rough-hewn streets of nineteenth-century San Francisco, Amy Tan's sweeping new novel maps the lives of three generations of women connected by blood and history-and the mystery of an evocative painting known as "The Valley of Amazement."

Violet is one of the most celebrated courtesans in Shanghai, a beautiful and intelligent woman who has honed her ability to become any man's fantasy since her start as a "Virgin Courtesan" at the age of twelve. Half-Chinese and half-American, she moves effortlessly between the East and the West. But her talents belie her private struggle to understand who she really is and her search for a home in the world. Abandoned by her mother, Lucia, and uncertain of her father's identity, Violet's quest to truly love and be loved will set her on a path fraught with danger and complexity-and the loss of her own daughter.
Lucia, a willful and wild American woman who was once herself the proprietress of Shanghai's most exclusive courtesan house, nurses her own secret wounds, which she first sustained when, as a teenager, she fell in love with a Chinese painter and followed him from San Francisco to Shanghai. Her search for penance and redemption will bring her to a startling reunion with Flora, Violet's daughter, and will shatter all that Violet believed she knew about her mother.
Spanning fifty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement is a deeply moving narrative of family secrets, the legacy of trauma, and the profound connections between mothers and daughters, that returns readers to the compelling territory Amy Tan so expertly mapped in The Joy Luck Club. With her characteristic wisdom, grace, and humor, she conjures a story of the inheritance of love, its mysteries and senses, its illusions and truths.

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I liked many aspects of this novel.  It was well-written, compelling to read, and covered a unique period of history in China.  At the center of the story are mother-daughter relationships.  Each of the three women in the story struggle to make a life for themselves is troubling circumstances in both Shanghai, China and the United States.  I was also very interested in the Courtesan houses where many girls were left with little choice in alternatives to earning a living.  I had always imagined these as places of prostitution, but Tan described a different live style with elaborate rules, customs, and many situations where suitors built strong relationships with the girls.  After so many hardships, I kept hoping that the characters would find better lives for themselves.  Even though the ending was not perfect, I was happy that it ended on a positive note!  

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