The Did Not Finish Chronicles: The Valley of Amazement

I have long struggled with the idea that it’s OK to abandon a book.

Part of it is that I think of my books as friends, acquaintances, potential soulmates and I don’t relish the idea of leaving one to find something better. Part of it is that I always think that maybe it will get better and the end will totally be worth the work of getting there.

Mostly I dislike the time I spend reading something that I don’t finish, which then doesn’t count towards my reading total.

But sometimes a book comes along that just needs to be left alone. Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement was a book like that for me.

I’ve recently realized that I LOVE books about Asia. I love the history and the culture and how these books have such a strong sense of place about them, I love how strong the women in these books tend to be. I hadn’t read Amy Tan before but I was excited to start on the work of the author of the beloved The Joy Luck Club. Naomi  @ Consumed by Ink told me to read The Kitchen God’s Wife recently. Both of those books are still on my list.

But The Valley of Amazement was the one I found first and holy cats you guys. It was terrible. At least the 200 pages that I read were.

The Valley of Amazement supposedly tells the story of Violet Minturn and her mother over several decades, over San Francisco and Shanghai and all their changing fortunes. Violet’s American mother runs the best courtesan house in Shanghai but when the monarchy falls, it’s suddenly not a great idea for foreigners to stay. She plans for her and Violet to leave on the next ship but when it’s time to leave, Violet is left behind and her mother thinks she is dead.

Violet is sold to a new courtesan house and is enslaved as a “virgin courtesan”, to be feted and wooed until someone pays the highest price to take her virginity. Then she’s a proper courtesan, caught between the world she never wanted to be a part of and the world she felt entitled to as an American. She doesn’t realize until she’s 8 or 9 that she’s half Chinese, guys.

Listen, I’m no prude. I read smut and have zero issues with it. But the smut has to be good. All this talk of stems and peaches and flower gardens and pudendas. I could not with that. And ok, it was 1912 and things were different but reading about the process whereby a 15 year old girl’s virginity was sold to the highest bidder, was just ick. Violet isn’t likeable, 200 pages in I still didn’t have any kind of STORY aside from the fact that Violet was going to have to have lots of sex for money and make all these gross, old men feel like a million bucks for the work.

eye roll


At some point, you just have to admit that a book isn’t for you and walk away. Sure, I wasted DAYS reading this when I could have been reading something I actually wanted to finish that would count towards my totals but at least this was a library book!

What’s the last book you had to walk away from?


22 thoughts on “The Did Not Finish Chronicles: The Valley of Amazement

  1. I’m so with you, I find it really hard to leave a book without finishing it. I haven’t left one unread for awhile (although I should have). I’m the same in that I don’t want the time I spent reading it part way through to go to waste…we’re goal oriented people!

  2. Best GIF ever. My husband and I are taking turns sending it to each other over everything. And I’m with you on the DNFing – I think I’m at 3 for the year which is huge for me! My last was Becoming Jinn which was boring snotty teens and not cool geenie stuff like I wanted.

    Its been a long time since I read the Kitchen God’s Wife but I really loved that one. Amy Tan’s last that I read was not at all a favorite so try her older stuff.

  3. I just put down Cloud Atlas. Reading about some guy exacting revenge on a socialite who snubbed him by proving she wears dentures made from cannibal feasting cast-offs–Nope.

  4. Yikes. I feel responsible. Except that I’ve never even heard of Valley of Amazement. Like Amanda said, maybe her older ones are better. I do like that GIF. though – it’s a good one. Maybe even worth the DNF. 🙂
    I’m the same way about finishing a book. I hate not being able to get back that reading time. The book has to be pretty bad, and it doesn’t happen very often. The last one I abandoned was a book club book – Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin. Snore.

    • Nah, you’re not responsible. And now you know, you can skip this one.
      The GIF is worth it for sure. So many applications for it.
      You abandoned a book club book!? I’ve never done that. Although there have been a couple that I definitely wanted to.

      • It’s the only one I’ve abandoned so far, and I did feel bad, but no one seemed to care. In my defence, it only came in from the library at the last minute, and I had so many other way better books calling to me. I just couldn’t. (Also, I wasn’t the only one!)

  5. I DNF’d a lot last year, including Sarah Water’s Fingersmith and Watership Down. I always felt anxious about time spent reading books that didn’t count toward my goal, so I actually started counting books if I had read at least half of them, and knew I was never going to get back to them and finish the job. Made me feel like it wasn’t a total waste. 🙂

  6. This is it for me: “Mostly I dislike the time I spend reading something that I don’t finish, which then doesn’t count towards my reading total.” But, I’m getting better!!! I DNF’d a book at 85% last year – ha! And one at 2% recently…so all over the spectrum.

    • 85%!? Wow. You are a strong lady.
      The crux of the thing really is that I don’t like wasting my time that way hahahaha. If I’m going to suffer, it should at least count for something.
      But reading when all you can think about is how you’d rather be doing ANYTHING else is no way to read.

  7. Sounds a lot like Memoirs of a Geisha, did you read that? What did you think? I have this one on my shelf. Perhaps not the best choice for my first (I may have read Joy Luck Club a million years ago, but I can’t remember.)

    • I did read that! I loved it, actually. They are sort of similar but now I can’t remember Memoirs that well. I think it was more about her as a woman though. Violet doesn’t know herself as a person – all of her experiences are about how she reacts to things other people do. I couldn’t stick around for more of that.

  8. This year has been particularly bad for DNF, but the one that sticks out most would be Wreck & Order. It made me angry which is saying a lot. I am tired of contemporary fiction w female protagonists who seek abusive men. It’s hard to say but I feel as if there must be a better way to depict young women in their 20s. I don’t want to believe this is the majority mindset but it’s popping up all over in fiction. Maybe I’m naive.

    • No I think you’re completely right. It’s not that those stories aren’t important to tell BUT there has to be a reason for it. I’m kind of just tired of contemporary female protagonists whose stories revolve around a man in any way. Have we all not moved past this need? IF we’re looking for a partnership a) it’s not necessarily through a man and b) there has to be more to it than that. PLEASE.

  9. Pingback: 2016 TBR Challenge Pile Fail: The Grapes of Wrath | The Paperback Princess

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