Posts Tagged The Valley of Amazement
STEELE Picks: 20 Best Books of 2013
Posted by Amy Steele in Books on December 30, 2013
1. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud [Knopf]
–a brilliant novel about anything but that typical woman upstairs. It’s about aspirations present and past, realized and forsaken.
2. The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna [Tin House Books]
–an intense book about squatting, community and political activism in the 90s
3. Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi [Penguin]
–a beautifully written book. haunting and lyrical. family, race, country, belonging.
4. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward [Bloomsbury]
–this memoir. raw. upsetting. the author mediates on the poverty in Louisiana and the black men she lost in its depths.
5. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat [Knopf]
–another novel in which I’m in awe of the writing style. gorgeous mystical tale about Haiti.
6. FEVER by Mary Beth Keane [Scribner]
-wondrous historical fiction about “Typhoid Mary.” fascinatingly imagined.
7. The Inbetween People by Emma McEvoy [The Permanent Press]
–stunning, powerful novel. Avi Goldberg writes from military prison because he refuses to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF]. He writes about his friend Saleem, an Israeli Arab he met. Their lives intertwine despite cultural differences and past troubles.
8. In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler [Metropolitan]
–not only a memoir about Ensler’s personal journey with cancer but it’s a call to community, to get involved. so powerful I cried when I finished reading it.
9. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan [ECCO]
–sweeping story about mothers and daughters set in turn-of-the-century Shanghai
10. Harvard Square by Andre Aciman [W.W. Norton]
–melancholic, nostalgic autobiographical novel about belonging and assimilation that focuses on immigrants finding their place in America in the 70s.
11. Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron [Blue Rider]
–the this essay collection, Delia tackles the profound to the superficial with wit, perception and charm. She maintains a steady wisdom-filled tone. She’s a woman who’s experienced plenty and shares mistakes, some secrets and reflects upon life-lessons with those willing to listen.
12. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell [Knopf]
–This collection of stories transports you to places you never imagined going to. Russell writes stories about variations on monsters. Beautiful, peculiar, unusual and tragic monsters. She creates bizarre, macabre and funny settings. Complete with vivid imagery, creepiness and potent emotions without an excess of verbiage. She writes dark, funny and tender.
13. Freud’s Mistress by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack [Amy Einhorn]
–long rumored to have had an affair with his wife’s sister, Kaufman and Mack vividly imagine this sister’s character and life with the Freuds.
14. Montana by Gwen Florio [The Permanent Press]
–MONTANA drew me in immediately with its stellar page-turning plot, terrific characters and stunning descriptions of Montana scenery. Also Lola’s an independent feminist journalist determined to uncover the truth at any cost.
15. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III [WW Norton]– author interview
–one of my all-time favorite authors writes vignettes about love, sex, relationships and the gritty, sticky, messy aftermath.
16. Lillian and Dash by Sam Toperoff [Other Press]
–What a charming novel that delves into the long affair between playwright Lillian Hellman [Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour] and noir author and screenwriter Dashiell Hammett [The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man].
17. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver [Harper Collins]
–Lionel Shriver expresses so many thoughts about obesity epidemic, how we indulge, how food is a treat, a central focus for holidays, outings, dates, meetings etc. Dazzling writing, vocabulary and character creation up until the ending.
18. Together Tea by Marjan Kamali [ECCO]– author interview
–insight into the immigrant experience. Humor, love, respect and mother-daughter bonding make this a book you’ll long remember after finishing the last page. It’s a love story to Persia as well as an acceptance for the United States.
19. The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen [Other Press]– author interview
–in this astute story collection, Elizabeth Cohen writes about dating in the digital age.
20. Nothing Serious by Daniel Klein [The Permanent Press]
–brilliant meditation on print media and its changing format and relevance.
The Valley of Amazement: book review
Posted by Amy Steele in Books on December 22, 2013
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. Publisher: ECCO (November 2013). Literary fiction/ Historical fiction. Hardcover. 608 pages. ISBN 9780062107312.
A sweeping story set in Shanghai, Amy Tan weaves a lush tapestry about mothers and daughters, a subject she writes exceptionally well. In 1905 young Violet lives a vibrant and lavish childhood in the courtesan house run by her mother, American Lucia [Lulu] Minturn. Violet never knows her father and her exotic looks combined with this mystery throw a wedge between mother and daughter. They don’t have the closest relationship. No cuddles, hugs and kisses. More formal. Businesslike. [“All I knew was a gnawing need for her attention and assurances. I wanted to feel without worry that I was more important than anyone else in her life. When I thought about it further, I realized she had given more attention to the beauties than to me.”]
When Violet overhears that she’s actually not American like her mother that she’s half-Chinese/ half-American, quite rare during these times and in most circumstances, she finds it unsettling. She’d be an outcast but her mother’s shielded her from being one. Born in China, Violet speaks fluent English and Chinese, a useful skill in her mother’s business. The story’s mostly told through Violet and it’s engrossing. Tan provides elaborate descriptions and character portraits. She leaves out few details.
When political unrest hits Shanghai making it unsafe for foreigners, a fellow American sets up passage to San Francisco for Lulu and Violet. Unfortunately the double-dealing Fairweather tricks Lulu and Violet gets left behind. The worst possible scenario: she’s sent to a courtesan house and her virginity’s sold to the highest bidder. Luckily the young man’s not so bad and Violet falls for him a bit but soon realizes that wasn’t the best idea. She must keep her head clear. In this next part of the novel, Violet transforms herself into a Svengali and survivor because that’s all she can do. 14 years pass with Violet in her role as courtesan.
“He must have expected I would be pleased to hear this kind of flattery. I instead, I felt I had instantly become a whore. He had wooed me, as any suitor would his favorite courtesan. He wanted the chase and capture, the self-denial and mock agony in between. My agony was real.”
While young at first she quickly learns that she must look out for herself and keep her wits about her and stay strong. A smart woman, Violet has her own ideas and manages her business dealings as she wants. As a feminist reading about the courtesan life through Amy Tan’s words I didn’t find it offensive. She handles it effectively and with style and Violet and Lulu both are powerful, intelligent women. Later Violet does truly fall in love with an American named Edward and they have a daughter. Violet realizes happiness for the first time. After Edward dies from an illness, his American wife and mother sweep in and take the child away devastating Violet.
This courtesan world isn’t glamorous or romantic. It’s a working world. Not the gritty street life of a prostitute but a courtesan in turn-of-the-century Shanghai needed to remain popular among patrons to make money and not get demoted to a worse house or to the streets. Plus most courtesans only had a limited amount of years in which to remain in favor as courtesans. Sadly men like the women young. Sexist world the sex trade. Tan provides a glimpse into this little known world with Violet’s tumultuous story and her eventual reunion with her mother and her daughter.
RATING: *****/ 5
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the ECCO/Harper Collins.
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