Shanghai, 1912. Violet Minturn is the privileged fourteen-year-old daughter of the American madam of the city’s most exclusive courtesan house. But when the Ching dynasty is overturned, Violet is separated from her mother in a cruel act of chicanery and forced to become a “virgin courtesan.” Half-Chinese and
half-American, Violet grapples with her place in the contradictory worlds of East and West--until she is able to merge her two halves, empowering her to become a shrewd courtesan who excels in the business of seduction and illusion. But privately she continues to struggle to understand who she is and where she
belongs in the world.
Back in 1897 San Francisco, Violet’s mother, Lucia, chooses a disastrous course as a sixteen-year-old, when her infatuation with a Chinese painter compels her to leave her home for Shanghai. There she is shocked by her lover’s adherence to Chinese traditions and her inability to change them despite the unending amount of American ingenuity she possesses.
Both Violet and Lucia are fueled by betrayals and refuse to submit to the Chinese ideas of fate and societal expectations. They persist in their quest to recover what was taken from them: respect; a secure future; and, most poignantly, love from mothers, fathers, lovers, and children. To reclaim their lives, they take separate journeys--to a backwater hamlet in China, the wealthy environs of the Hudson River Valley, and, ultimately, the unknown areas of their hearts, where they discover what remains after their many failings to love and be loved.
Spanning more than forty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement resurrects pivotal moments of the past: the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty; the beginning of the Republic; the explosive growth of both lucrative foreign trade and bouts of antiforeign sentiment, which would have ramifications into the future. The lost world of old Shanghai is recaptured through the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of the foreign “Shanghailanders” living in the International Settlement, both erased by World War II. This deeply evocative narrative exposes the profound connections between mothers and daughters, which returns readers to the compelling territory Amy Tan so expertly mapped in The Joy Luck Club. With her characteristic insight and humor, she conjures a story of inherited trauma, desire and deception, and the power and obstinacy of love.