The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

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Violet, raised by her American single mom, the owner of an upscale courtesan house in Shanghai, is used to getting her way.  As she spies on everyone in the house, including her own mother, she learns that her mother manages to get her way, as well.  She watches as her mother navigates the business world, bringing Chinese and foreign businessmen together in order to create opportunities for these men.  In doing so, she also brings them into her business.  Life is good for Violet, until the day she learns of the existence of her father (who is Chinese, much to her shock) and a long-lost brother whom her mother feels she must go to America to see.  In a twist of circumstance brought about by a devious suitor, Violet and her mother are separated and Violet’s life is set upon a trajectory of hardship, of love, and of heartbreak.

The story is beautiful and tragic and heart-wrenching.  We follow Violet as well as her mother, Lucia, through their lives which are complicated and also made beautiful by love.  The issue of Chinese and American cultures clashing comes out frequently and creates a lot of the conflict in the story.  The other characters in the book are also quite beautiful and add greatly to the depth of this saga.

My only criticism of this book is the editing – I feel that parts of the story were drawn out almost to the point of boredom.  Violet is compelled to take a long journey that lasts a couple of weeks.  It is a very difficult journey, that is clear.  But the number of pages used to describe every obstacle – almost each stone that was in their way – was truly onerous to plod through.  There were a number of parts like this that could have/should have been abbreviated somewhat.

That said, it is still quite a stirring tale of ultimately 3 generations of very strong women who overcome their adverse circumstance, almost against all odds.  Although the reader must wade through excessive detail, it is ultimately a very inspiring and up-lifting.

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