Shanghai, 1912. Violet Minturn is the daughter of the American madam of the city's most exclusive courtesan house. When political upheaval separates Violet from her mother, she is forced to become a "virgin courtesan." Half-Chinese, half-American, Violet grapples with her place in the worlds of East and West--until she merges her two identities to become a shrewd courtesan, though privately she still struggles to understand who she is. San Francisco, 1897. Violet's mother chooses a disastrous course as a sixteen-year-old, following a Chinese painter to Shanghai, where she finds herself shocked by her lover's adherence to Chinese traditions.
Fueled by betrayals, both women refuse to submit to fate, persisting in their quests to recover what was taken from them: respect; a secure future; and love, from their parents, husbands, and children. An evocative narrative of the connections between mothers and daughters, imbued with Tan's characteristic insight and humor, The Valley of Amazement conjures a story of inherited trauma, desire and deception, and the power and obstinacy of love.