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In her first novel since 2009's Saving Fish from Drowning, Tan again explores the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, control and submission, tradition and new beginnings. Jumping from bustling Shanghai to an isolated village in rural China to San Francisco at the turn of the 19th century, the epic story follows three generations of women pulled apart by outside forces. The main focus is Violet, once a virgin courtesan in one of the most reputable houses in Shanghai, who faces a series of crippling setbacks: the death of her first husband from Spanish influenza, a second marriage to an abusive scam artist, and the abduction of her infant daughter, Flora. In a series of flashbacks toward the book's end, Violet's American mother, Lulu, is revealed to have suffered a similar and equally disturbing fate two decades earlier. The choice to cram the truth behind Lulu's sexually promiscuous adolescence in San Francisco, her life as a madam in Shanghai, and Violet's reunion with a grown Flora into the last 150 pages makes the story unnecessarily confusing. Nonetheless, Tan's mastery of the lavish world of courtesans and Chinese customs continues to transport. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* Lulu, an American, is the only white woman running a first-class courtesan house in Shanghai in 1905. Burdened with secret anguish and loss, she relies on her loyal associate, Golden Dove, to help her create an enclave of confidentiality, courtly seduction, and voluptuous pleasure for the city's most influential men. Her lonely young daughter, Violet, has taken to eavesdropping and spying to survive. Shocked to be outed as half-Chinese, Violet thinks, half-breed, half-hated, and indeed, this exposure is only the beginning of an all-out assault against her sense of self and freedom. In her first novel in eight years, Tan (Saving Fish from Drowning, 2005) returns to her signature mother-daughter focus as she pulls back the curtain on an aggressively sexist society after the fall of the last Chinese dynasty precipitates monumental change. Reaching back to Lulu's San Francisco childhood and forward to Violet's operatic struggles and traumas and reliance on her smart, loyal mentor, Magic Gourd, this scrolling saga is practically a how-to on courtesan life and a veritable orgy of suspense and sorrow. Ultimately, Tan's prodigious, sumptuously descriptive, historically grounded, sexually candid, and elaborately plotted novel counters violence, exploitation, betrayal, and tragic cultural divides with beauty, wit, and transcendent friendships between women. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: An ambitious, 20-city author tour backed by extensive advertising and promotion will help make Tan's bold epic a blockbuster.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist