I found myself falling in love deeper with Amy Tan’s worlds. The Valley of Amazement centres on Violet who has a turbulent relationship with her mother Lulu/Lucia/Lucretia who runs a first-class courtesan house in Shanghai. Violet’s life changes when mother and daughter get separated and the courtesan house falls to some gang thanks to a trickster.
While her mother is left on a boat to San Francisco on a promise to be reunited with a long-lost son, the sharp tongued and haughty Violet is placed at another courtesan house with strangers but she soon finds a familiar face: Magic Gourd who becomes a sister/mother figure and with her help, Violet learns the ways of a courtesan, how to survive, and learns to grow up – but she doesn’t lose her spirit. She eventually goes through further trials including losing a daughter that would lead her back to Lulu.
The tale about mother-daughter relationships is so powerful, not to mention race playing a part in causing tension but also destruction of families. I thought Violet’s character development from a haughty and selfish kid/teen to an adult who is caring and by the end, learns to forgive (adults can still be immature) flows nicely.
The inability to let go of the past is another theme – though the past keeps haunting the characters. Violet comes to resent her mother after their separation and believes she has never loved her. It isn’t until after so many trials that Violet and her mother (we get to read her POV too) are ready to unchain themselves from their mistakes and guilt. Their shared mistake is not appreciating what they had and getting into things without thinking through before misery hits them. But they were young and full of desire for experiences and love.
The open ending left me in tears. I didn’t want it to end – [spoiler alert] just not when Violet is reunited with her mother and daughter.