February 23, 2014
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Once again I found myself faced with a reading challenge. First it was a new demanding puppy and now cataract surgery. You can’t keep an avid reader without a book for long and despite some stumbling blocks; I was able to finish reading The Valley of Amazement (B) by Amy Tan. I can’t say it was entirely worth the effort.
Lucia Miniturn is an American madam running an exclusive courtesan house in China. She has a young daughter named Violet who is half American and half Chinese. Violet is not her only child. She also given birth to a son, Teddy who was immediately taken from her by his Chinese father. Violet has never received her mother’s love and attention and now this mysterious sibling has sealed the deal. Lucia has made arrangements through an unsavory patron to gain passage on a ship heading for San Francisco. She has been promised that once there she can again be with Teddy. She has been deceived and the ship sets sail leaving Violet behind; sold as a Virgin Courtesan.
The tale continues with Violet’s story of survival. It is here that the reading becomes laborious with over 100 pages of unnecessary details preparing Violet for deflowering. Luckily, I prevailed and the story that follows was more of what I expected from a Tan novel. Honestly, I persisted based solely on her previous work.
Clearly this is not for everyone. If you have never read an Amy Tan book before this is not the place to start. If you have, you might push through and be pleasantly rewarded. I have said before that more isn’t necessarily better. This is true here. Try it and see if you find yourself in The Valley of “amazement” or “daze-ment”. It could go either way.
March 5, 2013
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Gail Tsukiyama’s newest book A Hundred Flowers (B) is the third of her novels that I have read. Though well written and clearly thought provoking, it did not hit the mark that The Samurai’s Garden and Women of the Silk did.
The story begins in 1958 and is based on a Mao Tse-Tung quote, “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.”
Wei is a scholar who is now retired from teaching. He lives with his son Sheng, Sheng’s wife Kai Ying and their son Tao. The book opens after Sheng has been removed from his home and family; sent to a camp for reeducation due to a political letter that was written in opposition to the Mao government. (The quote mentioned above was taken by some as an opportunity to voice their opinions.) Young Tao has been seriously injured due to a fall from the courtyard tree.
As the story moves along each family member struggles with Sheng’s absence and the impact it will have on them. Kai Ying tries to manage her family and herb business. Wei takes on the responsibility of getting Tao to and from school. Wei has been keeping secret the fact that he played an integral part in Sheng’s arrest. Once the secret is revealed the life of each character changes again.
There is much to be learned about honesty and love in this novel. I enjoyed the mini chapters spoken in the voice of each character. It helped to understand their feelings. There are several additional characters that enrich the story too.
While not my favorite of Tsukiyama’s novels, it kept me interested and involved. I encourage you to try it and hope you take the opportunity to read her others. You will find her writing beautiful and poignant.