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The Valley of Amazement
608 pages; Ecco
With The Valley of Amazement (Ecco), Amy Tan reaffirms her reputation as a master storyteller, creating intriguing settings, unforgettable characters, and twisty plotlines. At the novel's center is Violet, whose mother owns Shanghai's most elegant courtesan house catering to both Chinese and Western clients and "[breaking] taboo rather extravagantly in both worlds." In 1905 the House of Lulu Mimi bustles with the comings and goings of the "Cloud Beauties," while Violet pines for her mother's love and attention. But when a conniving lover tricks Lulu Mimi into abandoning her daughter, he girl is sold as a virgin courtesan. Violet spends the next years in the company of Magic Gourd, the mentor who teachers her how to please clients "while avoiding cheapskates, false love, and suicide," and how to survive heartache and betrayal. By the time the mother and daughter reconnect, we've gotten to know Lulu Mimi, who gambled on love and lost everything. The lesson of Tan's saga seems to lie in a passage from a Walt Whitman poem, whispered from a young mother Violet to her daughter: "Resist much, obey little." If a woman can live by this simple rule, Violet learns, she will never be defeated.
— Tayari Jones