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The Valley of Amazement

A sweeping epic of two women's intertwined fates and their search for identity from the author of The Joy Luck Club.

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SNEAK PEEK — from The Valley of Amazement

I was too short to see past the clusters of men, but I could hear my mother’s bright voice, moving closer or farther away, greeting each customer as if he were a long-lost friend. She gently admonished those whom she had not seen in a while, and they were flattered that she had missed them. I watched how she guided those men into agreeing with whatever she said. If two men in the room held opposite opinions, she did not take sides but expressed a view somewhere above, and like a goddess, she moved their opinions into a common one. She did not translate their exact words but altered the tone of intention, interest, and cooperation.

She was also forgiving of gaffes, and they were bound to happen, as is the case between nations. I recall an evening when I was standing next to Mother as she introduced a British mill owner, Mr. Scott, to a banker named Mr. Yang. Mr. Scott immediately launched into a story about his winnings at the racetrack that day. Unfortunately, Mr. Yang spoke perfect English, and thus my mother was unable to alter the conversation when Mr. Scott talked excitedly about his afternoon betting on horses.

"That horse had odds of twelve to one. In the last quarter mile, his legs were slashing the air, gaining steady speed all the way to the end." He shaded his eyes, as if seeing the race once again. "He took the race by five lengths! Mr. Yang, do you enjoy horse races?" Mr. Yang said with unsmiling diplomacy, "I have not had the pleasure, Mr. Scott, nor has any Chinese I know." Mr. Scott quickly replied: "We must go together, then. Tomorrow perhaps?"

To which Mr. Yang gravely replied: "By your Western laws in the International Settlement, you would have to take me as your servant." Mr. Scott's smile vanished. He had forgotten the prohibition. He looked nervously at my mother, and she said in a humorous tone, "Mr. Yang, you must bring Mr. Scott into the Chinese Walled City as your rickshaw puller, and encourage him to make haste like his winning horse to the gate. Tit for tat."

After they shared a good laugh, she said, "All this talk of speed and haste reminds me that we must work quickly together to secure approval for the shipping route through Yokohama. I know of someone who can be helpful in that regard. Shall I send a message tomorrow?" The next week, three gifts of money arrived, one from Mr. Yang, a larger one from Mr. Scott, and the last from the bureaucrat who had greased the way to the approvals and had a stake in the deal. I saw how she entranced the men. They acted as if they were in love with her. However, they could not make any confessions of ardor, no matter how true. The warning went around that she would not view them as genuine feelings of love, but trickery to gain unfair advantage. She promised that if they tried to gain her affections, she would banish them from Hidden Jade Path. She broke that promise with one man.

From the book THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT by Amy Tan. © 2013 by Amy Tan. All rights reserved. Published by arrangement with Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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Rave Reviews

Lisa See, author of international bestsellers Snow Flower and The Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and Shanghai Girls

"It's been a long eight years since Amy Tan's last novel, but THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT proves that good things--breathtaking things--come to those who wait. [...] It's wonderful to be back in Amy's magical and amazing world."

Publishers Weekly

"Tan's mastery of the lavish world of courtesans and Chinese customs continues to transport."

Booklist

"Tan's prodigious, sumptuously descriptive, historically grounded, sexually candid, and elaborately plotted novel counters violence, exploitation, betrayal, and tragic cultural divides with beauty, wit, and transcendent friendships between women."

Real Simple

"Fans of Tan's previous works (including The Joy Luck Club) will rejoice when they get their hands on this book."

Newsday (Fall Preview)

"The author of The Joy Luck Club and The Hundred Secret Senses can deliver a sweeping family saga like nobody else."

Kirkus Reviews

"Tan is a skilled storyteller. . . A satisfyingly complete, expertly paced yarn."

Library Journal (starred review)

"This utterly engrossing novel is highly recommended to all readers who appreciate an author's ability to transport them to a new world they will not forget. As a plus, this reviewer sensed the harbinger of a sequel by the last page."

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The Story Behind The Story

A few years ago, I went with my family to the Asian Art Museum to see an exhibit on Shanghai, the city where generations of my mother's family had lived. About a third of the way through the exhibit, we came upon an illustration of women leaning over a balcony to view the city. The docent explained that they were courtesans, a class of women who had been quite influential in introducing Western popular culture to Shanghai.

Having had a strong Shanghainese mother, I've always been intrigued by the influential women of generations before. I bought an academic book in the museum shop on courtesan culture. A few days later, while leafing through the pages, I came across a photo of ten women, which stunned me. Five of the young women are dressed in the same clothes my grandmother is wearing in one of my favorite photographs of her. In fact, it is identical in every detail: a headband with intricate embroidery, a tight-fitting jacket with a tall fur-lined collar, sleeves that end just below the elbows with the white lining reaching to the wrists, complete with matching tight trousers. The caption says: "The Ten Beauties of Shanghai." They were courtesans who had won a popularity contest in 1910, having been nominated by their clients. I was stunned. The fashion details were specific to courtesans, I read, and no women other than courtesans went to Western photo studios. My grandmother's photo had been taken in just such a place.

I went searching in our family photo albums for other pictures. There were several tiny postage-sized ones I had glanced at over the years. They were of my grandmother, but they had not seemed that special at the time. I took out a magnifying glass and saw with new eyes. One showed her as a young girl, wearing a radical hairstyle, tight-fitting dress, slightly Western in fashion. Her hand is on her hip, and her face looks as if she is trying to keep from laughing. In another, she is older and her expression is daring, nearly scowling. Her arms are akimbo, hand on hip, hand on chin. There were others, all taken at different ages and in Western photo studios.

I was shocked, baffled, filled with wonderment, and the excitement of a writer who has stumbled upon a mystery with the possibility of discovering new truth. The ancestors on both sides of our family have always been viewed as models of virtue, patriotism, and servitude to family, God, and or country. According to family history, my mother's father may have helped in the 1911 revolution to overthrow the Qing dynasty. My father's mother may have sewn a flag for Sun Yat-Sen during the establishment of the new Republic. My mother's side of the family originally came from Suzhou and may have been well to do. It is not certain what they did or whether they were still rich when they migrated to Shanghai in the 1850s. However, according to family history, all the women in our family had been virtuous.

My mother's mother was regaled as old-fashioned, traditional, and quiet, a woman of few words, who married late at age 24 and was widowed early, by the time she was 30. According to one side of the family, our grandmother, a chaste widow, was later raped and forced to become a concubine, a fate that led to her suicide within a year of her being taken to an island. Other family members believe that she had willingly joined the household of a man name Tu, who was renowned and admired on the island as a benefactor who built the roads, schools, hospitals, and water system. He would eventually have a total of seven wives, many of whom were in their teens when they joined the household. When one of them wanted to leave to go to school, he paid for her schooling. How could a man like that be accused of rape? Both sides of the family agree that our grandmother, age 36, was his favorite. One elderly relative who lived in that house as a young child recalled gossip that our grandmother had a fierce temper. If you tried to exert your own opinion -- "you got scared." That was the temper my mother inherited.

Whatever the case, the photos that clearly proved that parts of the family history were inaccurate. My grandmother was not old-fashioned. She wore daring fashions. She was not traditional. She went to a Western photo studio. I imagined various reasons she might have had these photos taken. For instance, she might have been a rebellious girl, like teenagers throughout the ages, who enjoyed wearing the scandalous clothing of popular icons--and in those days courtesans were like today's rock stars. Perhaps the studios catered to school girls and had costumes available, those of empresses, heroines in popular novels -- or even courtesans. The fact that she wore these clothes was no more indicative that she was courtesan than my being a dominatrix simply because I wore the costume of one for my performances in an all-author rock band that raised money for charity.

I then did the unthinkable: I contemplated the possibility that she might have indeed been a courtesan. But what circumstances would have brought her to the flower world? The stories of courtesans are often tragic and include kidnapping, or being sold by poor families, or joining the business when the family fortunes fell. She was adored by her parents, and by one of my cousins' account, the family was wealthy, so there was absolutely no reason she would have debased herself. That cousin was furious that I would even suggest in the slightest that our grandmother would have been a prostitute. Our grandmother suffered terribly and was our moral pillar. I had besmirched her.

Without my cousin's scolding, I had already felt that I had committed blasphemy by even thinking privately about the possibility. My grandmother was my heroine, my muse and inspiration. I feared her famous temper would be directed to me and she would leave my imagination.

Yet I remained obsessed with the mystery of the photographs. I abandoned the book I had been working on and began a story about a courtesan, but clearly unlike my grandmother in background, circumstances, and appearance. In fact, she was half Chinese, half American, her mind caught in the turbulence and eddies of both. Like mine. And so the story latched onto me, for everything I write is based on a personal obsession, an examination of some refracted aspects of myself--my ambivalence, my intentions, my beliefs and my contradictions in what I believe. The story is not about me, but those questions about myself are always there. I can take those questions and drape them with imaginary circumstances. I can also think about those who influenced me, my mother, my grandmother. What circumstances shaped my grandmother's life, her attitudes, her beliefs, her habits? What did she pass on to my mother and which of those did my mother pass along to me? What do I know of myself that may have descended from a rebellious teen or a victimized widow? In me is a partial answer to who she was. If I sit at a desk long enough, I can see a bit more of her and myself.

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Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement is a sweeping epic of two women's intertwined fates and their search for identity, that moves from the lavish parlors of Shanghai courtesans to the mountains of a remote Chinese village.Spanning more than 40 years and two continents, the novel resurrects pivotal episodes in history: from the collapse of China's last imperial dynasty and the rise of the Republic, to the inner workings of courtesan houses and the lives of the foreign Shanghailanders living in the International Settlement, both erased by World War II.An evocative narrative about the profound connections between mothers and daughters, The Valley of Amazement returns readers to the compelling territory of Tan's The Joy Luck Club.

  • SKU: 000000000001381493
  • Author: Amy Tan
  • Publisher: HARPER COLLINS PUBLISHERS
  • Release date: Nov 5, 2013
  • ISBN: 9780062107312
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Commitment Credit: 1
  • Book Search Plus: No
  • Warnings: No
  • Height: 1.370
  • Length: 8.250
  • Width: 5.500

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