Reviews for Valley of Amazement

Booklist Reviews 2013 September #2
*Starred Review* Lulu, an American, is the only white woman running a first-class courtesan house in Shanghai in 1905. Burdened with secret anguish and loss, she relies on her loyal associate, Golden Dove, to help her create an enclave of confidentiality, courtly seduction, and voluptuous pleasure for the city's most influential men. Her lonely young daughter, Violet, has taken to eavesdropping and spying to survive. Shocked to be outed as half-Chinese, Violet thinks, "half-breed, half-hated," and indeed, this exposure is only the beginning of an all-out assault against her sense of self and freedom. In her first novel in eight years, Tan (Saving Fish from Drowning, 2005) returns to her signature mother-daughter focus as she pulls back the curtain on an aggressively sexist society after the fall of the last Chinese dynasty precipitates monumental change. Reaching back to Lulu's San Francisco childhood and forward to Violet's operatic struggles and traumas and reliance on her smart, loyal mentor, Magic Gourd, this scrolling saga is practically a how-to on courtesan life and a veritable orgy of suspense and sorrow. Ultimately, Tan's prodigious, sumptuously descriptive, historically grounded, sexually candid, and elaborately plotted novel counters violence, exploitation, betrayal, and tragic cultural divides with beauty, wit, and transcendent friendships between women. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: An ambitious, 20-city author tour backed by extensive advertising and promotion will help make Tan's bold epic a blockbuster. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 July #2
Tan, who made her name with The Joy Luck Club (1989), blends two favorite settings, Shanghai and San Francisco, in a tale that spans generations. Granted that courtesans and the places that sheltered them were (and in some places still are) culturally significant in East Asia, Tan takes what might seem an unnecessary risk by setting her latest novel in that too-familiar demimonde (Miss Saigon, Memoirs of a Geisha, etc.). Tan is a skilled storyteller, capable of working her way into and out of most fictional problems, but the reader will be forgiven a sinking feeling at the scenario with which she opens, featuring "the only white woman who owned a first-class courtesan house in Shanghai." Where are the Boxers when you need them? Said white woman, Lulu Minturn, aka Lulu Mimi, is in Shanghai for a reason--and on that reason hinges a larger conceit, the one embodied by the book's title. She has a daughter, and the daughter, naturally enough, has cause to wonder about her ancestry, if little time to worry overmuch about some of the details, since her mom leaves her to fend for herself, not entirely willingly. The chinoiserie and exoticism aside, Violet makes a tough and compelling character, a sort of female equivalent to Yul Brynner as played by Lucy Liu. The members of the "Cloud Beauties," who give Violet her sentimental education, make an interesting lot themselves, but most of the attention is on Violet and the narrative track that finds her on a parallel journey, literally and figuratively, always haunted by "those damned paintings that had belonged to my mother" and that will eventually reveal their secrets. Tan's story sometimes suffers from longueurs, but the occasional breathless, steamy scene evens the score: "He lifted my hips and my head soared and I lost all my senses except for the one that bound us and could not be pulled apart." A satisfyingly complete, expertly paced yarn. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2013 August #1

Shanghai, 1912. Violet Minturn, 14, expects to join her mother on a voyage to San Francisco, but the treachery of a supposed friend separates them, and the boat leaves without her, stranding her as an orphan in China. Much-acclaimed author Tan (The Joy Luck Club) is publishing her first novel in eight years, an epic, as the publisher calls it, that could be termed "a courtesan's handbook." It is also the wrenching, intertwined stories of three women--mother Lucia/Lulu, daughter Violet, and granddaughter Flora--who all three suffer abandonment and loss, then are forced to forge new identities for themselves. The tales (better, travails) of mother and daughter unfold mainly in Shanghai at the turn of the last century, where circumstances force each to become a courtesan to earn her livelihood. Tan introduces us to an extensive cast of well-drawn, authentic-seeming characters who either shape or try to undo the lives of these indomitable women. It should be noted that if the sex in this tale is not graphic, it is certainly frank--and abundant, though well done. VERDICT This utterly engrossing novel is highly recommended to all readers who appreciate an author's ability to transport them to a new world they will not forget. As a plus, this reviewer sensed the harbinger of a sequel by the last page.--Edward Cone, New York

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 July #5

In her first novel since 2009's Saving Fish from Drowning, Tan again explores the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, control and submission, tradition and new beginnings. Jumping from bustling Shanghai to an isolated village in rural China to San Francisco at the turn of the 19th century, the epic story follows three generations of women pulled apart by outside forces. The main focus is Violet, once a virgin courtesan in one of the most reputable houses in Shanghai, who faces a series of crippling setbacks: the death of her first husband from Spanish influenza, a second marriage to an abusive scam artist, and the abduction of her infant daughter, Flora. In a series of flashbacks toward the book's end, Violet's American mother, Lulu, is revealed to have suffered a similar and equally disturbing fate two decades earlier. The choice to cram the truth behind Lulu's sexually promiscuous adolescence in San Francisco, her life as a madam in Shanghai, and Violet's reunion with a grown Flora into the last 150 pages makes the story unnecessarily confusing. Nonetheless, Tan's mastery of the lavish world of courtesans and Chinese customs continues to transport. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Nov.)

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