Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Sweeping Saga from Amy Tan with a Courtesan House Backdrop, 'The Valley of Amazement' Follows a Mother and Daughter's Quests for Love

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Sweeping Saga from Amy Tan with a Courtesan House Backdrop, 'The Valley of Amazement' Follows a Mother and Daughter's Quests for Love

Article excerpt

"THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT"

By Amy Tan.

CCCO/HarperCollins ($29.99).

n her latest novel, "The Valley of Amazement," author Amy Tan effectively uses her own family history to develop an intricate novel of contrasts.

In a museum catalog, Ms. Tan found a photograph of the Ten Beauties of Shanghai. The Beauties are winners of a contest among Chinese courtesans selected by their patrons as the most beautiful. Ms. Tan recalled a photograph of her grandmother, in similar costume, that was also taken in a Western photography studio in Shanghai.

Inspired by questions about her grandmother's life story, Ms. Tan developed a fictional account that links both sides of the Pacific Ocean and explores the relationship between a young American mother and her half-American, half-Chinese daughter in the early 20th century.

Violet Minturn is the daughter of Lucretia Minturn, also known as Lulu Mimi, madam of the courtesan house Hidden Jade Path, which caters to both influential Chinese patrons and wealthy Western businessmen.

Lulu is able to negotiate both sides of the two worlds and allow them to socialize separately and do business together in the middle. Lonely but haughty Violet grows up in this environment of courtesans and wealthy men, yet has a difficult relationship with her mother.

Lulu chooses to leave Shanghai for America but naively leaves the care of the virgin Violet to her con artist lover, who sells her to another courtesan house while Lulu waits aboard ship. Violet's story is a classic woman's story. She loves passionately, loves again truly, experiences the heartache of lost relationships, the loss of a daughter, grief, physical abuse, danger, true friendship, and kindness from the least likely sources. Eventually, Violet learns of her lost brother and her absent Chinese father, and she learns that her haughty American attitude and green-eyed appearance are meaningless as she builds a life for herself as a courtesan alone in Shanghai.

She lives as a mother and wife in the best of homes and as a Third Wife in the worst circumstances. She is as resourceful and mature as she is passionate and nave.

The maternal devotion of Magic Gourd, an older courtesan, tempers Violet's impetuous nature. …

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