The blurb reads,
“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.”
It captivated me.
IT TORTURED ME!
It consumed me.
I had seen this cover while looking at the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. I am sure this won or was a finalist.
And the cover drew me in. Come on, this is such a brilliant cover. Just enough to draw you to it, tantalise you and make you want to read it.
And read I did. On my Scribd app.
And I was destroyed.
I was. I kid you not.
Violet drew me in. I thought she was petulant. Spoilt and rotten. But then I can’t ignore that every child feels unloved. Every child feels, at some point, that they don’t have any relationship with their parents. I feel the resentment she feels when I think my parents are favouring my sister or not giving me or my trivial concerns enough attention.
Amy Tan slowly converted me into someone who loved Violet. Sure she grew up with privileges. And that gave her an attitude that perhaps a lot of us will have. An attitude that we may not show. Something that has to do with the comforts we enjoy and end up taking for granted. A sense of entitlement if you’d call it that.
Violet’s comfortable life is torn apart because of political changes in China and she enters a life she left, but from the other side. And that is where the book really lifted for me. To understand the world of a courtesan so deeply and write about something which was deeply rooted in the culture of the Chinese is a highlight of the book. I could sense how much this was a part of the culture and the “coming-of-age” for sons. And somehow, having these courtesan houses out in the open didn’t shame the courtesans as much as prostitution now does to women. Indeed, the courtesans took umbrage on being called a lowly prostitute. And for good reason. Their self esteem was what gave them a unique place in the schematics of a normal Chinese life.
Violet’s initiation into her courtesan life and how she handled it, really made her as a woman. Her experiences growing up scarred her interactions because, you can sense, beyond all the business like nature of her dealings, she did hunt for love. Desperately hunted for love. For someone who would love her openly.
There is so much heartbreak in store for Violet as she lives her life. At some point, it seemed like the book wouldn’t end, but at no point did it let me go out of its aura, enough to abandon it. I always came back. Came back to Violet. Came back to find out what happened to her.
And that’s what devastated me about this book.
Lulu destroys her life by uprooting it. She scars her parents, destroys their marriage and casts off to live her life. That tragedy really got me thinking about the venom we hold against others in our lives. And how noxious it could get at times. How we had relationships where we never conversed. Where we never connected. And someday, we were left with crumbs, not even whole memories to cherish. It was an ominous sign. And a one which greatly disturbed me.
Why must we continue to hide our thoughts? What stops us from going and talking to the people we love and value? Why do so many things come in between? Why do people grow apart? And what role do mentors really play in our lives?
These are important questions and I can only hope the reader realises the brilliance of the author for bringing these out in such a raw manner.
I’ve experienced a similar venom so many times in my life. I have felt relationships feeling like hollow drums with nothing inside. I have lamented over how I don’t have things to say to the people in my life and how now we have grown apart. I bear signs of entitlement yet I don’t see the hard work behind that entitlement.
I wonder so much about a Mother-Daughter relationship. There are so many things I randomly want to tell my mother but for some reason I feel we burned bridges and I have not been able to recover. This is such a complicated relationship, I can’t start to talk about how many thoughts I had when I read about Violet and Lulu.
I was simply amazed at how this one book could make me feel so despondent, so lost and then show me a sliver of light so that I knew there were things to come. That there was a future that could be anticipated for Lulu and Violet.
This book was a great one. I don’t hesitate to say it destroyed me emotionally. And I’m glad to have stuck to it and read it. It was a great one.
My Rating: 4.5/5
Grab this one. Let it destroy you. You’ll come out whole, having realised so many things about yourself