Violet Minturn grows up in a luxurious courtesan house in Shangai. Her mother, the American LuLu Minturn, is the owner of the house. She is a respected businesswoman who combines the best of the East and the West and brings businessmen together.
Being an American in China gives Violet a status. But she often feels she’s excluded. The courtesans do not treat her the way they should and she often hears rumor’s she’s a half breed, half-Chinese half-American. When she confronts her mother, LuLu lies. Violet’s father is long dead and was an American. But Violet isn’t stupid and when she discovers the truth, she’s furious. Apparently she has a brother who lives in Francisco and LuLu decides to move back to the US.
But before the two can talk everything out, Violet and her mother lose each other. They’re tricked by a lover of LuLu, who has gambling debts. While her mother believes Violet is safely on her way to the ship, she’s actually sold to a lower rank courtesan house. Violet now has to rely on her own wits to survive. Being an half breed, she understands how to move between the East and the West, and becomes one of the most celebrated courtesans of her time. But she struggles to find her true identity and her place in the world.
It took me a while to really get in to the story. The first hundred pages covers Violet’s youth and her relationship with her mother and it goes terribly slow. ‘Her mother doesn’t love her’, ‘she’s lonely and has no friend’… After a few pages, it gets boring. But when you get to the point where Violet en LuLu are separated, the story really goes uphill.
The tough relationship between Violet and LuLu, Violet’s search for her identity as an half-American half-Chinese, the pain you feel when somebody doesn’t love you the way you do… It’s beautifully written down by Amy Tan. Although there are some things that gets annoying after a while.
The most annoying were the unlikely character motivations. Violet and LuLu are strong, smart, savvy woman who turn into lovesick, nitwits overnight. Whenever love is involved, no reasonable decision are made. Especially Violet makes one stupid mistake after another. But I do loved Magic Gourd. She made me laugh, but at the same time made me cry.
Spanning fifty years, this is a gigantic novel. The first hundred pages are a drag, but if you keep reading, you find a wonderful story about finden one’s true identity and the search to find true love and a place in the world.
Duth Translation: Vallei van Verwondering
Publisher: Fourth Estate (Londen) – Ecco (US)