My first thought when I picked up Amy Tan’s latest novel (her first since 2005 and was published in 2013, yes, yes, I’m way behind on my “high priority” pile) off the top of the pile a few days ago, was “This seems much heavier than her other books. I hope Amy Tan’s editors aren’t afraid of her and that his book needs to be almost six hundred pages long.” My second thought was, “Maybe I should pick a shorter book.” My third was, “Shit, just read the fucking book. You love Amy Tan. And this book has been sitting way too long.”
I haven’t gotten very far into The Valley of Amazement yet, for all the usual reasons. Work’s busy, I’m tired, I’m trying to work out more, so on and so forth. So far all I know about this book is what the dust jacket says: historical fiction, takes place in China and America, tells the story of three generations of mothers and daughters, two of which were courtesans in Shanghai at the turn of the twentieth century. So with the exception of the courtesan aspect, it’s basically a standard Amy Tan book, though she usually tells more contemporary stories than this one. So far, I’ve only read about thirty-five pages, and I’ve met Violet, who is currently eight years old, and living in the courtesan house, Hidden Jade Path, that her mother, Lulu Mimi Minturn, runs in Shanghai in 1905. Violet is a confused and spoiled girl, and I’m not sure how I feel about her yet. The story is told in first person with Violet as our narrator, though there were a couple of pages that were told by Lulu, for no apparent reason that I could determine, though I was reading it right before bed and I was falling asleep, so perhaps there was more sense in it than I realized at the time. And that’s basically all I know so far. When I paused in my reading this morning, Violet had just thrown a terrible temper tantrum because it was her birthday and her mother left the room to get dressed to take her out to lunch, and she did not return. Lulu’s second in command at the house, Golden Dove, is scolding Violet for being an ungrateful brat, and Violet is just so sad because her mother seems to want to spend more time with her clients than she does with Violet.
I have a long history with Amy Tan—I read The Joy Luck Club when I was in high school; it was one of the first adult novels I read as a teenager, and I loved it. It was about mothers and daughters and it took place partially in San Francisco. I think I bought my copy used at Green Apple on Clement Street, though I think the purchase predates my adventures there with Bethany. This book was a huge thing in high school—it was the first main stream novel written by an Asian-American woman about Asian-American characters that I’d ever read or even heard of. My Asian friends loved it, and I loved it in solidarity, and also because it was a really good book. I’ve read all of Amy Tan’s novels, and she is an author I’m allowed to buy in hardcover, but quite honestly the only one I remember well is The Joy Luck Club, maybe because I’ve seen the movie a whole bunch, or maybe because it’s the best of them.
I’m going to keep plugging along with The Valley of Amazement, and hope that it sucks me in better than it has been doing now that I’m more well-rested. I just don’t want to spend a month on it!