Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I innocently stumbled across an Amy Tan novel, The Joy Luck Club, as a young bookseller, an epic for me back then. Handed this long awaited tome, I immediately cleared my schedule and tore into it. Now by ‘tore into it’ I mean merely that while I felt like I was ferociously reading big gulps of the book Amy Tan was politely asking me to slow down; a stern teacher in the great scheme of things, she really sets the pace for you – like it or not.

This gorgeous novel slips so eloquently into Amy Tan’s repertoire of family epics. Spanning almost five decades, we follow the live of Violet Minturn. Young, naive and devilishly spoilt as a child, she grows up running through the courtyards of a very upmarket courtesan house run by her mother, Lucia.

When an old trickster lover turns up promising Lucia to help her find her lost son, Teddy, she quickly sells the courtesan house 'The Hidden Jade Path', and packs up their lives to head to San Francisco, only to discover that Violet’s birth certificate is missing. An astute promise from Lucia’s lover leaves Lucia on a boat to San Francisco and Violet sold as a virgin courtesan.

It’s a sluggish read up till this point, almost had me giving up and admitting defeat. However, the wait was worth it! Tan begins to stretch her legs in the art of torment; she slowly sets free her protagonist, be it with emotions, or the yearning of the heart, or even the simple action of friendship. As the plot begins to move along, you sorely believe Violet truly deserves all she naively wishes for – love as a young courtesan, which seems highly unlikely, but yet Tan makes it so.

A genie for fiction, Tan weaves together fate, love and loss poor Violet is faced with more torment than any other protagonist I have ever encountered. Perhaps this is why I fell so easily in love with her, rooted for her, berated her stupid decisions and rejoiced in her triumphs. Secrets, history, family and a setting so unique, it seems all could helplessly relent to such a mere 600 pages.

Me having fun with the cover...

A slow start is my only cross against this beautiful story, call it impatience or indulgence of word, but once the story digs its heels in Tan shows more than you could have ever thought to have discovered. Amy Tan has the extraordinary talent of sweeping a reader up into a world far from the one in which we habit.

This is one to pick up next, one to keep holding on to with that last sip of tea...

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan features on this month’s Exclusive Books Recommends for February.


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