Escape to the House of Woe

Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

First Line: “When I was seven, I knew exactly who I was: a thoroughly American girl in race, manners, and speech, whose mother, Lulu Minturn, was the only white woman who owned a first-class courtesan house in Shanghai.”

I’ve been meaning to read Amy Tan for awhile now, so her new bestseller seemed like a good place to start. The Valley of Amazement definitely maintains the mother-daughter theme that Tan is known for, but I finished this novel with the hunch that her other works must be better.

Yes, the reader is transported. The courtesan-culture of Shanghai is explored in extreme detail. Even the minor characters are memorable. We are given a sweeping history of, not one, but multiple female characters. We have two narrators to inform us of the family’s genealogy, and, surprisingly, I found the alternating voices to be rather refreshing. The dual-narrator device can get tricky at times, but in this read, the pacing worked for me. Instead of merely switching between mother and daughter each chapter, we spend an extended amount of time with Violet before launching into a flashback of her mother, Lulu.

Naturally, Tan finds many opportunities to highlight the interconnectedness of her characters. Everyone seems to run in a small social-circle, which inevitably plays into the reccuring theme of identity and Tan’s classic mother-daughter drama.

I appreciate a long read, but in the end, I found this one depressing. Lots of hardship and not much redemption  make for a “particular mood” book that I probably won’t re-read.

Bottom Line: Although I’m not buying this book, I’m still interested in reading Tan’s earlier novels.