Amy Tan on her raciest book yet, ‘The Valley of Amazement’

In “The Valley of Amazement,” a young courtesan comes of age in the midst of family secrets and betrayal.
In “The Valley of Amazement,” a young courtesan comes of age in the midst of family secrets and betrayal.

It all started with a single photo. Amy Tan was flipping through an old family photo album when she came across a picture of her grandmother she hadn’t noticed before. “She was wearing a tight jacket, pants and a headband,” Tan remembers. Having read a book about Shanghai in the early 1900s, Tan recognized the garb as the uniform for courtesans, prostitutes with high-society clients. “Of course I was taken back by what this meant about my grandmother, and I became very obsessed with the notion that she might have been a courtesan,” Tan says.

The book is not based on Tan’s grandmother, but it did set the stage for her latest novel, “The Valley of Amazement,” a story about an American woman and her daughter, who becomes a courtesan during the overthrow of the Ching dynasty.

Similar to Tan’s book, “The Joy Luck Club,” the mother-daughter relationship is a strong theme in her new novel. In the book, the mother betrays her daughter, Violet, by leaving her behind. This abandonment leaves her mark on Violet, who thirsts for an enduring type of love and is not able to fully forgive her mother. “I know what [this feels like] because it happened to my sisters,” Tan says. “They were left behind by my mother when she came to the U.S., and although they longed for her and loved her, they never quite forgave her.”

Violet’s coming-of-age story is made more complicated when she discovers that she’s half American and half Chinese. The book takes place in the international settlement in Shanghai, which is where wealthy Westerners were housed. “During this time period, Chinese people were invisible. Nobody would ever consider making friends with a Chinese person,” Tan says. For Violet to learn she is biracial alienates her from both American privilege and Chinese community. For this part of the story, Tan again was inspired by her ancestors. “Both on my mother’s side and my father’s side there were family members who engaged with English-speaking translators,” she says.

“The Valley of Amazement” is Tan’s raciest book yet – she had never written a sex scene until penning this book. “I avoided including it, but my editor told me, ‘This takes place in a courtesan house. You have to have sex.’” Tan put a lot of research into her sex scene, scouring academic books about courtesan houses during this time period. “Wives actually used to visit courtesan houses and pay money to learn what courtesans did with their husbands, so you knew something special was happening there,” she says.

But more than sex, family and self-identity, the book is about betrayal and the age-old question of whether love can really conquer all. “Enduring love can come from a mother, lover, husband or child, but it’s about the search for that type of love and what it means,” Tan says.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Federal mediator joins Met Opera labor talks as…

Unions representing the orchestra and chorus of the Met Opera agreed to have a federal mediator join labor talks on Thursday as a threatened lockout loomed.

Local

Winning $7 million New York lottery ticket sold…

The only $7 million winning New York Lottery ticket for Monday's Cash4Life drawing was sold at a Queens 7-Eleven, officials said on Tuesday.

Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

Movies

Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is a refreshingly…

Marvel is sitting so high on a cash mountain that it's now thrown $170 million at the relatively obscure and very silly title "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Movies

Review: 'Get on Up' is a war between…

James Brown finally gets his own boring biopic with "Get on Up," but the Godfather of Soul puts up a good fight against the usual cliches.

Movies

Review: 'Child of God' finds director James Franco…

James Franco's 11th directed feature is a noble but sloppy adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "Child of God," about a feral mountain man (Scott Haze).

Movies

Review: Alex Gibney's Fela Kuti doc 'Finding Fela'…

Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney takes on Afrobeat god Fela Kuti in "Finding Fela," but fails to capture his unique essence.

MLB

Yankees land Stephen Drew, Martin Prado at trade…

Yankees land Stephen Drew, Martin Prado at trade deadline

College

Playing the Field: Valentine's Day coupling edition

  It’s Valentine’s Day, a day created by Hallmark to make couples spend loads and loads of money on candy, flowers and gourmet dinners. Or…

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

Career

What do you wear to a career fair?…

Getting that gig starts with presenting the most polished and memorable version of yourself, so refer to our expert fashion advice.

Style

Editors pick: Margiela's finger armor ring

These cool rings from Maison Martin Margiela are designed to overlap over the finger, covering each joint like armor.

Style

Givenchy champions diversity

Riccardo Tisci's uses a variety of ethnically diverse ladies for his spring campaign including Erykah Badu.

Wellbeing

Don't settle for the hotel fitness center with…

Travelers who want to skip the hotel fitness center in favor of local gyms that may offer better equipment, classes and amenities can turn to…