The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

73%

36 Critic Reviews

Although the novel bogs down in the middle with disproportionate description of life as a courtesan, it mostly clips along as characters travel a collision course toward each other. The last third of the book is especially compelling as the point of view changes to Lulu and all that has happened in her life.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement is a sweeping, evocative epic of two women’s intertwined fates and their search for identity, that moves from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the fog-shrouded mountains of a remote Chinese village.

Spanning more than forty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement resurrects pivotal episodes in history: from the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty, to the rise of the Republic, the explosive growth of lucrative foreign trade and anti-foreign sentiment, to the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of the foreign “Shanghailanders” living in the International Settlement, both erased by World War II.

A deeply evocative narrative about the profound connections between mothers and daughters, The Valley of Amazement returns readers to the compelling territory of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. With her characteristic insight and humor, she conjures a story of inherited trauma, desire and deception, and the power and stubbornness of love.

 

About Amy Tan

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Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter's Daughter, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, Saving Fish from Drowning, and two children's books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa, which has now been adapted as a PBS production. Tan was also a co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club. Her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her work has been translated into thirty-five languages. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.
 
Published November 5, 2013 by Ecco. 931 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, Romance. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Nov 24 2013
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for The Valley of Amazement
All: 36 | Positive: 26 | Negative: 10

Kirkus

Excellent
on Jul 07 2013

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.

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Publishers Weekly

Above average
on Jul 29 2013

...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.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Lesley Downer on Nov 08 2013

Written in Tan’s characteristically economical and matter-of-fact style, “The Valley of Amazement” is filled with memorably idiosyncratic characters. And its array of colorful multilayered stories is given further depth by Tan’s affecting depictions of mothers and daughters.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Isabel Hilton on Nov 08 2013

She is a brisk storyteller, and despite its flaws, The Valley of Amazement packs in enough drama to keep her readers going to the end.

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Publishers Weekly

Below average
on Jul 29 2013

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.

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NY Journal of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Vinton Rafe McCabe on Nov 05 2013

...the unfolding of the story of the painting gives the book all of its best moments...Had the rest of it—the foot stamping and the tears—been shortened, tightened, and the story of the picture itself enlarged, the result may well have included the promised sense of amazement.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Jane Ciabattari on Nov 09 2013

I read The Valley of Amazement quickly, intrigued by the concentric tales. It's akin to her earlier work, yet more sophisticated, and a fine reminder that Amy Tan is herself a master of illusion, and one of the best storytellers around.

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Examiner

Good
Reviewed by Nola Cancel on Nov 10 2013

“The Valley of Amazement” is an amazing book. It works as a historical novel, as well as, a fascinating look into the culture and customs of the Chinese and how they define and influence the lives of some truly courageous women.

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Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Krys Lee on Oct 25 2013

...Tan’s large-hearted, florid and ragged tale goes beyond casual stereotypes. This is one writer’s particular idiom and vision of the world – and within that she offers us a rich cast of characters who both repel and compel.

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Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Christine Brunkhorst on Nov 09 2013

Although the novel bogs down in the middle with disproportionate description of life as a courtesan, it mostly clips along as characters travel a collision course toward each other. The last third of the book is especially compelling as the point of view changes to Lulu and all that has happened in her life.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Roz Shea on Nov 08 2013

Tan’s books often deal with mother-daughter relationships, tapping her Chinese-American roots for the familial complexities that arise in the culture clash of East and West...but Lucia and Violet are unlike any mother and daughter we’ve met in Tan’s work and perhaps anywhere else.

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LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by Louis Bayard on Nov 22 2013

In short, it's one Tan thing after another, and therein lies the episodic weakness of this book, which is epic in length but not in shape.

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Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Linda Diebel on Dec 05 2013

Tan is a masterful storyteller. Her writing is elevated by the universality of her themes. Her characters are abandoned in specific times and places but their predicaments evoke a deeper existential sense of aloneness.

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AV Club

Below average
Reviewed by Noah Cruickshank on Nov 04 2013

The biggest problem is Violet, whose role of narrator for almost the entire book makes for a monotonous read. The world of courtesans and their high-class patrons is one of secrets, lies, and performance, but Violet has no spark as a storyteller...

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AV Club

Below average
Reviewed by Noah Cruickshank on Nov 04 2013

If Tan had focused more narrowly on the courtesan house, The Valley Of Amazement, wouldn’t have become the slog it is.

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RT Book Reviews

Good
on Nov 01 2013

Tan’s beautiful, seamless prose presents fans with a true sense of time and place, catching them up in the heartbreak- ing tragedy of the plot. Some may see contrivances and predictability while others will be compelled to keep turning the pages. Tan’s creativity is always a force, and in this epic tale her ability to captivate shines.

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Entertainment Weekly

Above average
Reviewed by Stephan Lee on Nov 05 2013

Tan isn't quite at the height of her storytelling powers here, but she still sweeps you up in the wildly changing fortunes of a whip-smart courtesan.

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The Washington Post

Below average
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Nov 05 2013

“The Valley of Amazement” is never dull — there’s far too much sex, suffering and intrigue for that — but it’s wearisome. We deserve more enlightenment for surviving this ordeal with Violet.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Katy Guest on Nov 17 2013

Tan’s language throughout is replete with sumptuous detail – from the ominous “peonies the size of babies’ heads” in chapter one, to the rather more gruesome details of bound feet and formal deflorations later on.

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Booklist Online

Good
on Dec 05 2013

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.

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The Boston Globe

Good
Reviewed by Jane Ciabattari on Nov 16 2013

Tan wraps up “The Valley of Amazement’’ in 1939 on the eve of World War II. By the time she has finished the haunting tale of these two flawed and resilient women, she has created such an enticing portrait of Shanghai that she makes us nostalgic for a city we can never know.

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USA Today

Above average
Reviewed by Martha Moore on Nov 02 2013

This is an Amy Tan novel, so its heart is the push-pull of mother-daughter relationships: the guilt, anger and intense love that swirls between Lulu and Violet and then between Violet and Flora, the daughter who is taken from her as a toddler.

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Tampa Bay Times

Good
Reviewed by Colette Bancroft on Nov 18 2013

...combines vivid historical details and epic sweep across several decades and two continents with intimate portraits of flawed but engaging women whose resourcefulness and courage are sometimes astounding.

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We Love This Book

Good
on Dec 05 2013

Fate and family dominate all else in this busy and evocative tale, spanning two continents and three generations. A must for Tan fanatics, and anyone who appreciates a good storyteller.

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North Jersey

Above average
Reviewed by Kim Curtis on Nov 10 2013

Readers also may find themselves wondering throughout "The Valley of Amazement" whether they hadn't already read this book. It covers no new ground and offers no surprises, but in Tan's skilled hands that doesn't detract from the joy of reading it.

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Time Out New York

Above average
on Dec 05 2013

As the pair copes with issues of betrayal and personal identity, Tan's prose remains fluid and unhurried.

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The American Book Center Blog

Good
Reviewed by Marjolein Balm on Nov 16 2013

...I couldn’t put this amazing book away and I certainly recommend this gripping, detailed and impressing novel set in ‘’The Paris of Asia’’...It’s a wonderful book that you don’t want to miss!

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Beth Fish Reads

Below average
Reviewed by Beth F on Nov 11 2013

My main issue is that neither Violet nor her mother is a sympathetic character, and I found it difficult to root for them. In addition, because much of Magic Gourd's chapters and the fascinating information about the courtesan life first appeared in Tan's Rules for Virgins...the story didn't feel fresh to me.

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From Left to Write

Excellent
on Nov 05 2013

I’ve been so excited about Amy Tan’s newest novel The Valley of Amazement, that I worried that my expectations were too high. Thankfully, the novel exceeded my expectations. I think it’s one of Tan’s best books.

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Good Choice Reading

Good
Reviewed by May Ling on Jul 25 2013

This was the kind of book I couldn’t put down but was scared of finishing - I was caught up in nineteenth century China and all it’s beauty... mesmerized by Tan’s beautiful Valley of Amazement.

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Chick Lit Plus

Good
Reviewed by Allie on Nov 13 2013

Tan is expert at writing about the intricacies of the mother daughter relationship and this story, which spans forty years and two continents, will take the reader on an amazing journey.

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Book BagLady Reviews

Good
on Nov 14 2013

This book made me laugh, made me cry and left me feeling hugely satisfied. For as long as the book was, I still wanted the story to continue on even further. This is a book not to be missed and should be read by everyone.

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M Live

Below average
Reviewed by Yvonne Zipp on Nov 11 2013

While I've thoroughly Tan's other tales of mothers and daughters — especially "The Joy Luck Club" and 2001's "The Bonesetter's Daughter," I was happy to bid farewell to these concubines.

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The Savvy Reader

Good
Reviewed by Shannon on Dec 05 2013

As a teenager, I fell in love with Memoirs of a Geisha, and have been waiting ever since then for a book that captured my attention like that. Now, I’ve fallen in love with The Valley of Amazement. I hope you’ll let yourself get lost in Amy Tan’s writing.

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Great Imaginations

Below average
Reviewed by Kara Malinczak on Nov 05 2013

There is no question that Amy Tan can write, and she does an amazing job with the historical period and culture in The Valley of Amazement...but this book just did nothing for me. It was way too long and I never liked the characters...and it got to a point in the book where I was just ready for it to be over.

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More Than Just Magic

Good
Reviewed by Christa on Nov 19 2013

I personally found The Valley of Amazement to be a fascinating, rich novel about a period of history that isn’t often talked about. The story will shock, surprise and amaze you as you follow Violet and Lulu’s struggles to survive on their own and be a stronger person than they were before.

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Reader Rating for The Valley of Amazement
67%

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