The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
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SHANGHAI, 1912. Violet Minturn is the privileged daughter of an American madam at the city’s most exclusive courtesan house. But when the Ching dynasty is overturned, Violet is separated from her mother in a cruel act of chicanery and forced to become a “virgin courtesan.” Half-Chinese and half-American, Violet grapples with her place in the world — she is able to excel in the business of seduction and illusion but privately struggles to understand herself. SAN FRANCISCO, 1897. Violet’s mother, Lucia, chooses a disastrous course when, as a sixteen-year-old, she becomes infatuated with a Chinese painter and follows him to Shanghai. She is shocked by her lover’s adherence to Chinese traditions and is ultimately unable to mold him to her will, leaving her vulnerable and alone in a foreign land. Fueled by betrayal, both women refuse to submit to fate and societal expectations. They fight to recover what was taken from them: respect; a secure future; and, most poignantly, love. To reclaim their lives, they take separate journeys — one to a backwater hamlet in China, and the other to the wealthy environs of the Hudson River Valley. Ultimately, they must travel deep within, to the unknown areas of the heart. Spanning more than forty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement transports listeners from the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty to the beginning of the Republic, recapturing the lost world of old Shanghai through the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of foreigners living in the International Settlement. A deeply evocative narrative of the profound connections between mothers and daughters, imbued with Tan’s characteristic insight and humor, The Valley of Amazement conjures a story of inherited trauma, desire and deception, and the power and obstinacy of love.
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