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Sarah Canary Paperback – August 3, 2004


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Why does homesick Chinese railway worker Chin Ah Kin risk his life countless times in fevered pursuit of "the ugliest woman he could imagine?" Is Sarah Canary, the mute, misshapen object of Chin's confused affections, a vampire, an apparition, a shape-shifter, a feral child, a murderess? These are just a few of the intriguing questions that will keep readers turning the pages of this buoyant first novel set in and around the Washington territories in 1873. When Sarah Canary wanders into Chin's railway camp, his uncle orders him to escort her away. Far away. In the first of many such instances, the well-intentioned Chin misplaces her. When both resurface some days later at an insane asylum, Chin has run afoul of the law and Sarah has been committed for observation. Their escape from the asylum in the company of another inmate--BJ, a wonderfully drawn "sane" madman--sets into motion a series of adventures and misadventures at turns hilarious, deeply moving and downright terrifying. A picaresque romp that takes a good, long look into the human heart, this is a stunning debut. 35,000 first printing; $35,000 ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Chin Ah Kin is the reluctant hero of this search across Washington Territory for Sarah Canary. The year is 1873, one that holds promise for the emancipation of women, yet things couldn't be worse for Sarah. Chin first encounters her when she suddenly appears on the periphery of his camp. Because Sarah only speaks nonsense, Chin decides she is crazy and sets off with her to an asylum in Stellacoom. But because of her inability to communicate, Sarah soon becomes separated from Chin. Without her to justify his presence in the wilderness, Chin becomes the scapegoat for all the evil deeds around him. Fowler skillfully arranges characters and plot against a backdrop of American history, which becomes inspiration for her satiric wit. Although her unsentimental view is refreshing, Fowler overstates her case in the final chapter, for the reader already sees the unflattering reflection of racism and sexism in contemporary America. Recommended.
- Janet W. Reit, Univ. of Vermont Lib., Burlington
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; 1St Edition edition (August 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452286476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452286474
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #407,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Maybe she came from SOMEWHERE ELSE, but maybe not.
gammyraye
She's a central cypher and remains one, a device through which we know the other characters in the book.
Pasiphae
The story is thoroughly involving, very moving, beautifully written.
Richard R. Horton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A. Wolverton VINE VOICE on November 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Out of nowhere, a white woman wanders into a Chinese railway workers' camp. The time is Winter, 1873. The place is the Washington Territory. The woman says nothing. (Nothing discernable, anyway.) No one can explain who the woman is, where she is from, or how she got there. This is the situation Karen Joy Fowler presents to the reader in this astounding, wonderful book.
`Sarah Canary' meets many different people on her strange journey and she affects the lives of everyone she meets. Four people in particular fall under her strange spell: Chin - a Chinese railway worker who seeks to take her back where she belongs; B.J. - an escaped mental patient; Harold - a huckster who wants to put Sarah in his traveling freak show; and Adelaide Dixon, a woman suffragist.
`Sarah Canary' is all about perceptions. Each of these four characters see Sarah as something slightly different. Their perceptions also cause their lives to each change in different and fascinating ways.
When I finished `Sarah Canary,' I realized that Fowler had taught me a lot about the times I live in now. Perceptions are the focus of the book, but Fowler also touches on the cultural differences of different types of people, prejudices, superstitions, and much more. After reading the book, I realized that I had come away with a better (but maybe not a more positive) picture of human nature.
From what I know about the history of the book, Fowler had a difficult time finding a publisher, not due to the book's quality, but rather the book's genre. It has none. It has been labeled historical fiction, Western, science fiction, comedy, mystery. It is all of these and none of these. `Sarah Canary' is impossible to pigeonhole. Maybe that's why I lot of people I talk to haven't read it. They're missing a gold mine. I hope you don't miss out. Read it and see why Fowler is one of the most gifted talents writing today.
381 pages
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By bumuling on October 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
I thought this was a wonderful book and enjoyed it hugely. I gave 4 stars rather than 5 because I was a little let down over the last few pages ... it seemed a hasty wrap-up to an otherwise creative and compelling tale. Overall-- I laughed out loud, re-read certain passages over and over and will be quoting them to friends and family, felt the tension around Chin as an outcast minority in constant peril, loved B.J. the innocent madman.

I can't agree with some reviewers that Sarah Canary isn't developed as a character-- I think Fowler's portrayal of her as a maddening, incoherent and difficult being is quite consistent up through the end of the book.

Also I liked the historical facts and events described between chapters. I thought these sections, beyond giving the story its crazy context, were written with great (very dry) humor.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jay Stevens on October 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
Sarah Canary.
Is a difficult book to categorize.
After all, it's all over the place, reminds me of the film "Dead Man" by Jarmusch, a long metaphysical walk through the Northwest woods. Or, as the author admits as an influence, "The Wizard of Oz," where earnest characters grapple with a land full of surrealist pratfalls like flying monkeys and intoxicating flowers.
An ugly, babbling woman-Sara Canary-is the centerpiece of the book. You can't really call her a character, because she has absolutely no human characteristics outside of her physical appearance. Call her a symbol instead. A blank symbol filled by the perception of the characters she does encounter in 1873 Washington: a Chinese railroad worker, a woman's suffragist, a lunatic, a frontier postmaster, and a travelling carnie. Sara Canary falls into the care of each at one time or another, and they chase her across Washington to fulfill their imagined or manufactured obligations to their Sara Canary constructs. (The author herself implied that Sara Canary is an alien improperly built to infiltrate Earth.)
At times the book bogs down in annoying viewpoints. (I was not crazy, for example, with the suffragist's point of view.) Sarah Canary herself can be annoying, because you want to pin an identity on her, you need to know who she is. And you will never know. And you know it.
The author also tries to be cute sometimes by cleverly adding anachronistic references to the present into 1873 thoughts. (The worst of which occurs when the lunatic recovers his doctor's watch from Sarah Canary's throat.
Read more ›
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Horton on August 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Karen Joy Fowler's first novel, Sarah Canary, is a marvel, an amazing, original novel about aliens, of all sorts, in the 1870's American West. It is extraordinarily assured, the best first novel I've read in a long time - indeed, in my opinion, at least arguably the best SF first novel of the nineties.
It concerns a mysterious woman (?), who cannot speak any recognizable language, who appears in the Pacific Northwest late in the 19th Century. A young Chinese man, Chin Ah-Kin, must try to escort her home, wherever that is. In their travels, they encounter a variety of alienated people: an Indian, a suffragette, etc. The story is thoroughly involving, very moving, beautifully written.
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