Friday, March 21, 2014

The Valley of Amazement

The Valley of Amazement
Amy Tan
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
 ISBN: 978-0-06-210731-2
$ 29.99
 589 pages

An American woman becomes pregnant by a Chinese man while he is in America.   Being disgraced, she feels that she has no choice but to follow him to his home in Shanghai in the hopes that he will marry her.   His family has promised him to another.   Even though he loves the American woman, he will not marry her but claims to only love her.
This is the story of Lulu and her daughter, Violet.
Violet Minturn doesn't have friends her own age for many reasons.   She is a mixed-race child living in her American mother's courtesan house in Shanghai during the year of 1912. 
Lulu, her mother had a relationship with a man from Shanghai while living at her home in California.  When she discovered that she was pregnant, her family was obviously upset.  They knew that a mixed-race child would unquestionably not fit into their social setting.  Violet's father will not marry her mother since he plans to follow his family's wishes and to marry a bride chosen to him for the family.   What is her mother to do?
Lulu decides to travel to Shanghai truly believing that he will marry her.   His family has to accept her. What are her choices?  How do you live you survive in a foreign country where you don't know the language or customs and have been abandoned?
Violet is naturally curious about her past and the identity of her father.  Could one of her mother's patrons be her father?
With the collapse of the last Chinese imperial dynasty, life is quickly changing throughout the country.  For years, Lulu has relied on the loyalty of her staff and patrons and now that is changing as the country changes.  Who can she trust to help her?
Lulu decides that is time to take her daughter back to her native California.   She needs to trust another person to retrieve Violet's birth certificate from the embassy.   Since the city is rioting, it is not safe for her to be in the streets.  She has no choice but to trust.
Through deceit, Violet's mother is on the ship as it leaves for America.  Violet is not.
How does a mixed-race child with limited language and real life experiences survive in a country during a revolution?
Dealing with the changes in traditional practices of marriages as well as the influences of the opium usage, the hierarchy and practices of the prostitution trade, gambling dens and the activities of the Green Gang, as well as life in the countryside as opposed to the city are all what makes The Valley of Amazement an outstanding novel for life in Shanghai in the early twentieth century. The theme of this novel is the constant strain of mother/daughter relationships and the perspective of each constantly judging and unfulfilling each others' dreams.  The constant battle between control and submission involves both women and their similar lives.  
The Valley of Amazement is unquestionably an epic novel covering years for both Violet and her mother with frequent windows into the past which at times is a little confusing.   Amy Tan writes the continual story of Lulu, the mother, Violet and with multiple episodes into the past.  
The Valley of Amazement does relate some of the previous experiences in Amy Tan's other novels.  For a novel that truly pictures Shanghai, The Valley of Amazement truly is amazing. tale.

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