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174 of 210 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An epic story of a courtesan at the turn of the 19th century Shanghai
Violet was raised in a courtesan house in Shanghai run by her American mother Lulu. Lulu was not only the madam of one of the most exclusive courtesan house, but a rich and well connected business woman. As a daughter of a powerful American woman, Violet considered herself above courtesans and Chinese people. She later found out that her father was Chinese and she was...
Published 16 months ago by Y. Scott

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374 of 408 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Generic Amy Tan
As an enthusiastic fan of Amy Tan ever since her first novel,The Joy Luck Club, and then even more so after my emotional connection with her memoir, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life - which brought me to my knees because I too, like Amy, am afflicted with Chronic Lyme Disease - it hurts me to write anything less than a 5-star review for her latest work,...
Published 15 months ago by Evelyn A. Getchell


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374 of 408 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Generic Amy Tan, November 4, 2013
This review is from: The Valley of Amazement (Hardcover)
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As an enthusiastic fan of Amy Tan ever since her first novel,The Joy Luck Club, and then even more so after my emotional connection with her memoir, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life - which brought me to my knees because I too, like Amy, am afflicted with Chronic Lyme Disease - it hurts me to write anything less than a 5-star review for her latest work, THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT.

But if I am to be honest here, even at the risk of being unpopular among my fellow reviewers who are also fans of Amy Tan, I am afraid I must take the middle road in my evaluation of it. Let me cut to the chase - I found this novel less than amazing. At best I would say it is generic Amy Tan.

Even though parts of the book are really quite good, perhaps even worthy of a 5-star assessment, for several reasons the book as a whole could not sustain five stars. Allow me to explain.

VALLEY is the oft-told Amy Tan tale of strained mother-daughter relationships for which she is highly acclaimed and with which she typically builds her narrative architecture. I found that I have grown weary of it.

The plotting of this story as well as its array of characters are all rendered in a much too cozy fashion. The sprawling plot meanders around the high-end courtesan houses of Shanghai during the early 1900's. The courtesans were known as flower girls who were trained from a young and tender age to entertain male clients and provide sexual services including the giving up of their highly prized virginity. These beautiful and talented Chinese courtesans maintained a very high standard of living by supporting themselves as gifted performance artists, erotic entertainers, devoted companions and uniquely skilled lovers of only the wealthiest and most respectable of Chinese men in Shanghai society at the time.

One such flower girl is the novel's heroine, Violet, daughter of an American woman who in Shanghai goes by the name Lulu and is the madam to one of the finest and most elite of courtesan houses in the city. Violet and Lulu's mother-daughter tale is craftily told as only Amy Tan can do, and Amy certainly retains her prowess over historic detail and olfactory description, yet her writing seems stretched and worn in THE VALLEY.

The opening chapters of the book seemed stereotyped to me with a rendering that relied much too heavily in its conceptualization to Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel. I expect comparisons to that novel will be inevitable in other reviews.

Though not typical in her other novels, Amy's narrative in this one waxes and wanes throughout its 589 pages. There are sharp peaks and valleys in this story - some parts are at the height of captivating, exciting, droll, and even dangerous; others are at a low of flat, plodding, predictable, and clichéd.

It actually took about 100 pages before I was finally engaged by Violet's story. Then I was fastened to the kind of Amy Tan escapist novel that I love and I was glad I hadn't given up on it. I was enthralled by the detailed description of Shanghai culture at the turn of the last century and fascinated by its courtesans.

VALLEY is a historic fiction which examines in detail the subordinated role of women in Chinese culture and the conflict created from any of their quests for personal identity and the true, pure self. The ravishing perspective of a courtesan's life imparts a vibrancy to the world Amy creates in this novel and this is where the novel succeeds in aces.

But after investing myself in 500 pages of epic storytelling, I expected much more power and excitement at the end of its dramatic arc. Instead I was fatigued by a sloping denouement that only dissipated and left me with a predictable and all too tidy and pat ending.

It's just not possible for Amy Tan to write poorly and THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT is extremely well-wrought. Her down-to earth storytelling packs a punch and her themes of love and love's delusions are evocative and credible. Even though the beginning is weak and the ending is strained, I loved everything in the middle of this book!

THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT "is not a pleasant way station. It's a place of doubt, and doubt is dangerous..." And so it is. This book is certainly a must read for fans of Amy Tan but they shouldn't expect too much amazement.
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112 of 125 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A too long book about too little happening to people you don't care about., November 28, 2013
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I have enjoyed some Amy Tan novels but this certainly is not one of them. The plot is as old as the hills - young, arrogant girl falls on hard times and slides into the depths of cruel men and cold hearted madams, blah, blah, blah. The one dimensional plot is matched by the one dimensional characters, none of whom are likable nor interesting. Why they are the way they are goes unexplored as do plot narratives which seem to have been used only to get from point a to point b. Perhaps the most irritating part of this very irritating book is the use of coy terms for sexual organs. Men's stems are constantly entering gates of delight with glances at pink pearls guarding those gates, well you get the idea! The exception is the use of the word "pudendum" which stands in stark grabbed, rubbed, squeezed, contrast to the stems, pearls, gates, etc. This is a too long book, about too little happening, to self absorbed people who never touch, never mind grab, your attention.
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136 of 154 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not my favorite, November 4, 2013
This review is from: The Valley of Amazement (Hardcover)
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*** Warning, there are some spoilers***
It is a testament to Tan's writing that I finished this book. I do not like spending so much time with characters I do not like or respect. Violet Minturn, the daughter of a famed American courtesan mistress in Shanghi, is someone I didn't enjoy. A spoiled brat would be a good description. Violet is half American, half Chinese, a fact that she doesn't discover until she's 8 or 9. She creeps around the house spying on all the courtesans at work. Nothing her mother does is good enough and Violet never feels loved.

Violet's mother decides to return to San Francisco and is tricked into leaving Violet behind. Word is sent to her that Violet has died. Violet is sold into another courtsesan house as a virgin and is trained to take up the profession. Even though she knows her mother was tricked in leaving her behind and that her mother believes her dead, she is outraged her mother doesn't come back for her. Her unhappiness colors every thing.

She gets involved in a relationship with an American and participates in a counterfeit identification that leads to horrendous results. I can not fathom why she does so and it is never explained. She is outraged, once again, that her duplicity is discovered. This character never seems to mature or make adult, well thought decisions. It is like she quit growing at 14.

The book is overly long. There's so much discussion of furnishings and clothes that I tended to nod off. I think it could have been edited by at least 100 pages and been a better story. I can see why it took her 8 years to write it as it is so detailed. I find that as an author gets more famous that there is less editing leading to really uneven stories.

Still I read it. Amy Tan is a fine author and I doubt I would have finished it for any other author. I like to enjoy and appreciate the characters. I like to see characters grow and mature. I don't need to be impressed by details about things that really don't matter to the story. I really can't recommend this book. At it's length, it's a big investment of time for very little return.
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174 of 210 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An epic story of a courtesan at the turn of the 19th century Shanghai, October 24, 2013
By 
Y. Scott (Lexington, MA, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Valley of Amazement (Hardcover)
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Violet was raised in a courtesan house in Shanghai run by her American mother Lulu. Lulu was not only the madam of one of the most exclusive courtesan house, but a rich and well connected business woman. As a daughter of a powerful American woman, Violet considered herself above courtesans and Chinese people. She later found out that her father was Chinese and she was only half American. That fact added to her self identity problems.

When Violet was 14, Lulu decided to leave Shanghai to go home because of the political instability. Then, Lulu was tricked by her lover, and ended up leaving Violet behind. Violet was sold to another Courtesan house and forced to become a virgin courtesan. Violet experienced many heartaches, and eventually learned to live her life as well as possible.

I have read every book (except for children's books) by Amy Tan. And she is one of my favorite authors. "The Valley of Amazement" would be my 4th favorite of hers after 1)The Hundred Secret Senses, 2)The Joy Luck Club, 3)The Bonesetter's Daughter: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle).

These are the reasons why "The Valley of Amazement" is not my number one favorite;

1) I love Amy Tan's sense of humor. She can make you laugh while you are crying, but this novel didn't have it.

2) This novel reminded me of Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel. Unconsciously, I was comparing them. Finding similarities and differences between Japanese courtesan house and Chinese one was interesting, but I don't think it's a good way to enjoy a new novel by such a talented author.

3) It's unnecessarily long. It could be shorter.

4) Too predictable.

5) Mother daughter relationship story of Lulu, Violet, and Flora didn't add very much to the story. It unnecessarily complicated the story.

However, Amy Tan is still a great story teller, and there are many beautiful moments. It's much better than the last novel Saving Fish from Drowning. It's as good as The Kitchen God's Wife. Welcome back, Amy!
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No Joy or Luck in this Valley - but definitely Amazement, November 22, 2013
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This review is from: The Valley of Amazement (Hardcover)
A dedicated Amy Tan fan since her debut novel (which, though it was published a year before I was born, I revisit every year), I traveled to the Valley of Amazement already spellbound, anticipating the same sentiments that Joy Luck delivered.

I was disappointed. At the risk of publicizing my oversentimentality, I also felt betrayed. I pre-ordered the novel and waited patiently, checking my mailbox every afternoon. And though I could only read a few pages a day because of my graduate program, I kept thinking - hoping, certainly - the story would pick up, a redeeming epiphany would alter the book's tone, something would make the characters more likable, more human, more compassionate. I waited for the language to become less tedious, the grimy details of Shanghai less depressing, the flower/sex references less tacky. Like the patrons of these courtesan houses, I spent the whole novel waiting at the cusp of this valley and searching for what I desired most. But I never found it. Just like the patrons, I found illusions, cheap embellishments, shoddy furniture, and cheap, cheap, cheap sex.

At Tan's defense, I get it. Sex sells. "Fifty Shades" is a testament to that, among so many other empty "pieces of literature" that will never stand in the same light as the classics, the unrecognized talents, the Nobel Laureates, the Pulitzer Prize winners. True literary minds, true English enthusiasts, scoff at works like these - they shame us, embarrass us. To use Tan's own terminology, good literature - true, honest literature - is like a first wife. And cheap, repetitive sex scenes, empty characters, and stale plot - these are all slave girls. I am sad to admit that I finally saw the day I'd scoff at an author I idolized and admired most. I have placed the valued Tan on a pedestal since I was teenager, and "The Valley of Amazement" tore down her pristine standard. I never imagined I'd want to STOP reading Tan. But I spent nights with this book dreading reading and re-reading tedious, silly passages that told me nothing of the characters at all, just courtesan rules, dry dialogue, and repeated questions from the protagonist that essentially answered themselves. Again, as Tan would put it: "I didn't understand. Why was the book so bad? Had I been duped?"

Some reviewers say they enjoyed the book because of its historical context, its realistic and sometimes shockingly honest portrayal of Shanghai in a time of revolution and change, and I understand this and agree with it. To Tan's credit, the book does provide a rich history and vivid backdrop to the characters' lives (although a few details did make me lose my stomach, the girl really did her research). The characters themselves, however, were as flaccid as an old patron's "stem." They were essentially faceless. Violet is a spoiled brat who has to learn about life the hard way, her mother is hard-hearted for having endured atrocities, Fairweather is a slimy con man. The patrons vary, but according to Magic Gourd, they will all enjoy more or less the same behaviors in bed, and there are rules to get them there that will never fail. I could never make a simple list like this for "Joy Luck Club" or "Bonesetter's Daughter." What gave Tan appeal above all else was honesty. Good, honest characters. Characters that you can't forget easily, that haunt you to come back and reread. I am upset to report that I finished Tan's latest book an hour ago and I feel like I've already forgotten the lot of these contrived personas already. I was happy to press cover to cover and call it a day.

Amy Tan was the first author to inspire me. I never thought a female artist of color could gain so much success by telling our stories - immigrant, minority, mother/daughter stories. American stories. Chinese stories. I was enchanted, and for this reason, I will always be grateful for Tan - I will always love her and admire her as an artist. It is not my place to say if the book was good or bad, only that I disliked it for all of the reasons I've mentioned already. Tan, you are BETTER than this! You don't need cheap sex to sell. I would have fawned over a more thoughtful story with rich, diverse characters, multifaceted symbolism, and meaningful relationships with less of the historical research monologues. I almost feel like Tan sold her body herself with this book.

I understand that artists experience varying phases in their careers. Tan is at a different place in life now than she was in 1989. She was inspired to write this, to tell these courtesans' stories, to shed some light on Shanghai during the 20s. I applaud her for her efforts, but frankly I think the book is a waste of time and money if you are seeking a read like "Joy Luck." This valley really will amaze you, but perhaps not the way you expect. But who knows? Maybe it will bring a new crowd of fans to her readership, who will pick up "Joy Luck" expecting something like "Valley," and thus, be disappointed! Different strokes for different folks. I only hope that Tan returns to her roots for her next piece. There is a reason her debut novel was so successful; if I were in her shoes, I'd take that fact to heart and build from it.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What! This is Amy Tam?, November 12, 2013
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What is this? The Chinese version of 50 Shades of Gray? Not exactly S&M but you can only take so much of parting the pink petals with a stiff stem and entering the gates of happiness (so to speak). Not worthy of you Amy Tam, after all the excellent books you have written. Very disappointing. Requested my money back.
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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor character development. Found myself just wanting it to be done., November 13, 2013
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The main characters, Lulu and Violet seem to suffer from the same poor character development by Tan. When Tan sends Lulu back to the US, it's almost as if she forgot what the character was all about emotionally and spiritually. She never really dealt with the theft of Lulu's baby son by his Chinese father, nor did she address it later on. Perhaps she is going to let Lulu find the child in a sequel. It was almost like Tan just forgot it as a plot development along the way. She used it as a device to send Lulu back to the US to search for him but once there, it never came up again....No mother could ever forget the loss of her child and would go to the ends of the earth to find him. The same situation repeated itself with the theft of Violet's child later on
but at least it got resolved though not in a believable way. So many things just seemed like plot contrivances and even Lulu's reasons for
becoming a madam really failed the honesty test in my opinion. For a smart young woman, Lulu made a lot of serious mistakes in trusting people and being able to separate fantasy, wishful thinking and truth from each other.

I think that Lisa See has dealt with similar situations in a much more effective manner in some of her earlier works. I think that many of
the descriptions of how a high class courtesan is "educated" became just too much and was better done in Memoirs of a Geisha. This book was just not a winner in any way. Sorry I wasted time and money on this one.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Surprising, April 29, 2014
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I never finished this book and lately I have made it a point to finish books. I became very tired of the portrayal of the courtesan's life. It seemed more like a primer for a courtesan and at times was never ending and overly descriptive .Almost porno without pictures. I don't know where Amy Tan did her "research". I read some of the parts to my husband as it was so amusing rather than shocking. I have always loved Amy Tan's books but this was decidedly blue
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing, November 20, 2013
I loved Amy Tan's previous novels, and was so excited when her new one came out! To be honest, I am on page 100, and I am wondering if I will get any further...boring! Contrived! Repetitive....it has been an effort to get this far...I am so disappointed! I know that several women in my book club feel the same way...and when there are so many other books on my reading list, I I have to admit it is tempting to just end it here!
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Awful!, November 27, 2013
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This review is from: The Valley of Amazement (Hardcover)
I had a really hard time getting through this book and did not like any of it. I usually love Amy Tan's books and was excited to buy it but am very disappointed by it. Way too much detail about the brothels and the lives of the courtesans. Really it made no sense and I would return it if I could.
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The Valley of Amazement
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (Hardcover - November 5, 2013)
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