I have not read a novel by Amy Tan since her first book, “The Joy Luck Club” was published in 1989. Although that book was long and convoluted, I enjoyed the historical aspects, the exploration of the Chinese-American culture, and especially the portrayal of the complex relationships between mothers and daughters. So I was anticipating another rich and complex book about relationships.
Unfortunately, “The Valley of Amazement” did not deliver. The book is set in the time period from the late 19th century through the 1930’s. This was a very interesting time politically in China as well as the rest of the world. The book doesn’t pay much attention to the political atmosphere. Instead it deals with three generations of mothers and daughters.
The first generation is a mother and daughter in San Francisco. The daughter, in defiance of her parents, falls in love with a Chinese art student. When she becomes pregnant, Lucia decides to go to China against her parents’ wishes and despite the warnings of her lover. She has a daughter, Violet, and falls into several situations which seem contrived. Even though she has been betrayed by men often, she is portrayed as a savvy businesswoman, which I found unlikely.
Violet, the daughter of the second generation, is spoiled and naive. Although she is given very good advice by others, she never listens, no matter how many devastating mistakes she makes. She is sold into the life of a courtesan, continues to believe she will be rescued from this life, and sells herself over and over. Gradually, over time, everything gets resolved in a good way, but not through any of her decisions.
Flora is the daughter of the third generation. She was stolen from her mother as a small child, but somehow instinctively knows that the women who raise her are not her relations. It does appear, however, that this daughter will make better life decisions than her mother or grandmother.
I was disappointed in “The Valley of Amazement.” It had neither the depth nor the substance of “The Joy Luck Club.” I didn’t like the main character at all, and found myself, throughout the book wondering when the women in the book would wise up and make good decisions. The Chinese women who were secondary characters in the book were smarter, more self-aware, and made better decisions than either Lucia or Violet. It may be another 25 years before I read another Amy Tan book.