The Book of Someday
Olivia grew up with a father who wqs physically present but emotionally and mentally checked out. Her stepmother was physically, emotionally and verbally abusive. Now an adult, Olivia has turned her experiences into a novel that is selling well. But she still anticipates that everyone she meets will hurt and reject her.
When she meets Andrew at a party, she is charmed by the handsome stranger. He wins her over with romantic trips and expensive gifts. But is he too good to be true? Has Olivia found the love of her or just another man that will leave her?
Micah is an artist, world-renowned for her photography. But her photos never have any people in them. When she receives a serious medical diagnosis, she wonders if it is punishment for things she has done. Instead of getting medical treatment, she begins to travel around the country trying to get in touch with people she has wronged. Can Micah have a second chance? Or does she have to die to pay for what she has done?
AnnaLee is a young married woman who loves her husband, Jack, and daughter, Bella. But she struggles because Jack doesn’t work hard and provide for the family. Their lives are thrown into disarray when Jack’s teenage neice (who wants to be called Persephone) comes to stay with them for the summer. AnnaLee struggles to love the unhappy wild girl the same way she loves Bella. Can Jack man up for his wife and child? Can AnnaLee’s love and patience win over Persephone? Or is it too late- have their choices already gone too far?
The stories of these three women- Olivia, Micah and AnnaLee- are of course linked. The author does an excellent job, tho, of drawing the stories together gradually; so that the reader starts to put the puzzke together but is still a little surprised when the last piece clicks into place.
The Book of Someday is a beautiful story, and the characters have a lot of depth. Each of them grows throughout the story in ways I didn’t anticipate when I opened the book.
The one criticism that I have of the book is that perfect strangers tended to share well-articulated insights into their innermost selves upon first meeting people. I understand why the author did this- she was trying to show not tell- but it struck an unrealistic note.
Can I just mention that the cover was exceptional? The “notecard” image was raised with textured edges. That was what first drew me to this book.
You might like: The Language of Flowers, Diffenbaugh.
The Valley of Amazement
Violet is the biracial daughter of Lulu Mintern, a white woman who runs a courtesan house in Shanghai in the early 1900s. As a very young girl, she is already exposed to the business of seduction. She is curious about the identity of her father, and jealous that Lulu does not pay enough attention to her.
When Violet is only 14, one of her mother’s schemeing ex-lovers separates mother and daughter and manages to get Violet sold as a courtesan. Luckily for Violet, the new courtesan house where she now works is also home to one of her mother’s former courtesans, Magic Gourd. Thanks to Magic Gourd’s training and protection, Violet (now going by ViVi) becomes a sucessful courtesan.
ViVi’s career has its challenges and its pleasures. She has a daughter, names her Flora, and then ends up losing her in a complicated inheritance struggle. She makes a very bad choice in marriage, leading to years of suffering for herself and Magic Gourd.
In the end, Vivi’s story does come full circle, and she gets answers to her questions about Lulu and Flora. Amy Tan’s stories are always, at their core, about mothers and daughters. There are generations of very complicated female relationships in Valley of Amazement, but the relationship at the heart of it ends up being between the two women who aren’t related at all: ViVi and Magic Gourd.
I am normally a huge fan of Amy Tan, and was very excited when she (finally) wrote another book. Unfortunately, I didn’t love Valley of Amazement as much as I wanted to. I had a hard time buying into the historically innacurate idea that China in the 1900s had a class of “courtesans” equivalent to Japan’s geishas, but still prostitutes. I also felt like Lulu’s story, when it was finally told, was at an odd place in the book (I would’ve put it a little later or much earlier.)
Finally, the thing I disliked most about this book was all the sex. Of course, in a book about a courtesan (or glorified prostitute), one expects some sex. But this book has graphic, gratuitious, and repeated sex scenes. Its coached in some language that is meant to seem both old-fashioned and Chinese, but I don’t think its accurate on either count. Perhaps the worst part about them is that the sex in question largely paid (not really consensual) sex with an underage prostitute.
You might like: Memoirs of A Geisha, Golden. Mandarin and Dynasty, Elegant.
Books I prefer by Amy Tan: Saving Fish From Drowning or Joy Luck Club.
The author of this book sent me a copy for review. I was hesitant, because I could see it was a small press or self-published book, but the plot seemed interesting, so I agreed. I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed this book. The story, writing and editing were better quality than I anticipated.
Razia is a girl on the edge of adolescence, the bi-racial daughter of a single mother, Sonya. Razia is attending an arts school because her mom wants to see her dreams of being an actress lived out in her daughter, but all Razia wants to do is draw. Sonya is a strong, feisty woman with a big inferiority complex stemming from being the adopted bi-racial daughter of a Jewish family. Her tough life as a single mom has only made her more independent, prickly, and resistant to help or love.
The drama rachets up when Razia insists on meeting her Kuwaiti father Aziz, an unfortunate one night stand whom Sonya refers to as merely a sperm donor. Aziz struggles to explain Razia to his wife and children. His efforts to introduce Razia to his Muslim faith don’t go over well with either Razia or Sonya.
Razia’s struggles with her family and identity lead her to make risky choices with boys and drugs. Sonya’s habitual fierce independence causes problems in her family, her relationship with Aziz, and her friendship (or could it be more?) with another art school single mom named Nanette. If only the two of them could open their hearts to change, acceptance and, most importantly, each other.
The strongest part of this book is the female characters, in all their different forms. Curly hair and dark skin; hijab-covered hair and gold skin; even short hair and white skin are all celebrated as beautiful. Sonya, while limited by her own needs, is well-intentioned. Razia, while disobedient, wants to do what’s right.
The ending is short, but I felt like it got to a good place. Everyone in the story was able to grow and accept something that they initially resisted. I felt hopeful that all of them- Razia, Sonya, Aziz- could have loving relationships with one another and the other people who mattered most to them.