The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Title: The Valley of Amazement
Author: Amy Tan
Genre: Historical fiction

Rating: 2 / 5

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I can safely say this is not my favorite Amy Tan novel. I’ve read two of her other books, and I remember really liking both of them. This one, not so much. It was okay…but just okay. I would hesitate to recommend it and don’t feel like it will be very memorable for me.

Basically, the story deals heavily with courtesan houses in 1910s-era Shanghai. There is a large dose of abusive relationships, rape, misfortune for women, sexist society, female friendship, and, of course, fraught mother-daughter relationships. And some superficial commentary on race relations too. Despite–or perhaps in part because of–all the sexsexsex all the time, the book seems somewhat…immature. The tone felt flat. I was having a hard time feeling much of anything for any of the characters, which is definitely unusual for me. So much happened but I didn’t feel like I knew them or understood their motivations or understood what they were feeling. There were a few plotholes. The writing itself didn’t appeal to me all that much. There were some very tedious parts that could have been left out. It just didn’t feel…developed. I read in the acknowledgements that Amy Tan really struggled with writing this book and it took eight years…so maybe she just had writer’s block.

Also reading this book thoughts like “Wow, China sucked” and “Wow, all these men are basically horrible people” crossed my mind. I have mixed feelings about the portrayals of these subjects in this book, as well as the subjects of fate and agency, relationships between women and men, things like “when fate turns out well, everyone should forget the bad road that got us here.”

All in all, I definitely could have skipped this one. Maybe 2014 will be my Year of Putting Books Down When I Am Not Enjoying Them.

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