Amy Tan on her latest book, The Valley of Amazement

25 May 2014

Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife and most recently, The Valley of Amazement, a historical narrative about life in the courtesan houses of China in 1905.

Tan strode onto the stage at Sydney Theatre after many hours of waiting by her most adoring literary fans. Although she had yet not spoken a word, the auditorium was filled with silence, captivated by this mysterious woman and what she was going to say.

The Valley of Amazement explores powerful themes such as trauma, endurance, sex, unresolved family myths, forgiveness, identity and most importantly, love.

She painted for her audience the vivid world of courtesan houses. "The practice of courting was not the same as prostitution". Young courtesans were 'courted', 'pursued', 'given gifts' and asked for dates in the 'proper' way.

These etiquettes were to be kept as men temporarily escaped the realities of their own lives in the sheer moments of being 'entertained' by courtesan women. Courtesans worked hard to avoid the prospects of homelessness, poverty or starvation beyond the realms of working in the courtesan houses.

Tan's incredible charisma, wit and charm had moved the audience by the end of the session as she spoke about her grandmother and the unresolved question of whether she too was a courtesan in a past secret life.