In her first book in seven years, Tan delves into the lives of three women struggling with love, independence and identity. The sweeping narrative is held together by a painting known as “The Valley of Amazement,” and rife with lush descriptions and poetic narrative. Tan’s beautiful, seamless prose presents fans with a true sense of time and place, catching them up in the heartbreak- ing tragedy of the plot. Some may see contrivances and predictability while others will be compelled to keep turning the pages. Tan’s creativity is always a force, and in this epic tale her ability to captivate shines.

As a famous Shanghai courtesan, half-American, half-Chinese Violet Minter appears to have put aside the sorrows of her past. She was abducted from her mother’s brothel when war broke out in 1904 and, buffeted by the winds of fate, she is a survivor. Few know her struggle to understand her mother Lucia’s abandonment and her loss of identity. Lucia was young and wild when she followed her Chinese artist lover to Shanghai, where fate led her to become the proprietress of a brothel. After her daughter’s kidnapping, Lucia seeks redemption. A reunion with her granddaughter presents her with an opportunity to find forgiveness. (ECCO, Nov., 608 pp., $29.99)
Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin