The Valley of Amazement Summary

Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement

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The Valley of Amazement Summary

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The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan is a novel about fate, love, identity, and belonging. These themes are told through the lives of three generations of women. The challenges they face separate them, but also give them the drive to get back into one another’s lives. Only then can they begin to heal from the struggles they’ve survived. Through that healing, they begin to see their lives and suffering in a new light because they’re able to understand their lives through one another’s eyes. The main relationship featured in The Valley of Amazement is that between a mother and her daughter.

The book opens with Violet Miniturn. Violet is convinced that she’s one hundred percent American, but when she learns that her heritage is half-Chinese, her entire world is turned upside down. Violet’s struggles also stem from the fact that she never knew her father. Violet’s mother has a courtesan house, and Violet’s father visits one day to tell her mother that she is now allowed to meet Teddy. Teddy is their son who lives in San Francisco. Violet’s mother decides that they will move to San Francisco from their current home in Shanghai. This upsets Violet because they have roots in Shanghai. This anger festers, particularly after the betrayal that spawns Violet’s separation from her mother. Her mother has a friend named Fairweather who sells Violet to a courtesan house. Fairweather uses the money to pay off a debt to the Chinese Green Gang.

Consigned to life as a courtesan, Violet becomes acquainted again with Loyalty Fang. They knew one another years ago, when he visited the courtesan house where Violet’s mother lived with Violet. Violet had a cat in those days who scratched Loyalty. When Loyalty buys the rights to Violet’s virginity, she imagines Loyalty will want to marry her. He doesn’t propose, and tells Violet this is because she nags him too much and is suspicious. Despite this, Loyalty offers her lifelong friendship. It’s through him that Violet meets Edward. Together, Edward and Violet have a daughter whom they name Flora. Unfortunately, Edward and Violet cannot marry. He’s already married to another woman. Edward’s wife tricked him into marrying her by saying she was pregnant with his child, even though she wasn’t. After Flora is born, Edward and his wife are able to legally take her away from Violet. This is because Flora’s birth certificate lists Minerva Ivory, Edward’s wife, as her mother. Violet swears that she’s going to find a way to get Flora back from them.

Violet experiences other changes from losing Flora. She soon starts to appreciate and understand her mother’s actions leading to when they were forced to separate. With this newfound understanding, Violet contacts her mother. She learns that her mother had been told that Violet was dead. Both of them are glad for the reunion, and Violet gets her mother to agree to help her get Flora back. Violet and Loyalty end up marrying, and Loyalty starts sending Flora gifts. Years pass like this with Flora unaware that Loyalty and Violet have sent her gifts, but when she discovers them, she’s able to reunite with Violet in Shanghai. This reunion sparks Flora’s memories, and she is able to recall Violet before Minerva took her away. By the end of the book, Violet is able to come to terms with how her life has unfolded. She no longer dreams about what might have been were she not sold to the courtesan house by Fairweather. She is able to find the good in her life, despite the cruel circumstances that defined it.

Some important symbols of The Valley of Amazement include the CHinese Green Gang, Violet’s Valise, and the painting for which the novel is titled. The Green Gang holds a debt over Fairweather’s head, prompting him to sell Violet to the Hall of Tranquility, a courtesan house. This is the inciting incident of the story, from which Violet’s other struggles stem. Her valise is her suitcase, and when she first sees its contents after she arrives at the Hall of Tranquility, she notes that her mother’s belongings are inside. This proves to Violet that her mother knew nothing of her being kidnapped and sold by Fairweather. The painting titled “The Valley of Amazement” appears more than once throughout the novel. Violet thinks it is a dangerous omen, but Flora understands that the painting is just a copy of someone else’s work.

Amy Tan’s works often explore the relationships between mothers and daughters, as well as Chinese-American struggles and experiences. She’s known for a number of works, including The Joy Luck Club, which was adapted for film in 1993. Tan has received many awards, nominations, and honorable mentions, including the 1996 Golden Plate Award from the Academy of Achievement, the Commonwealth Gold Award, and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award.