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Saving Fish from Drowning Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 18, 2005

340 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amy Tan, who has an unerring eye for relationships between mothers and daughters, especially Chinese-American, has departed from her well-known genre in Saving Fish From Drowning. She would be well advised to revisit that theme which she writes about so well.

The title of the book is derived from the practice of Myanmar fishermen who "scoop up the fish and bring them to shore. They say they are saving the fish from drowning. Unfortunately... the fish do not recover," This kind of magical thinking or hypocrisy or mystical attitude or sheer stupidity is a fair metaphor for the entire book. It may be read as a satire, a political statement, a picaresque tale with several "picaros" or simply a story about a tour gone wrong.

Bibi Chen, San Francisco socialite and art vendor to the stars, plans to lead a trip for 12 friends: "My friends, those lovers of art, most of them rich, intelligent, and spoiled, would spend a week in China and arrive in Burma on Christmas Day." Unfortunately, Bibi dies, in very strange circumstances, before the tour begins. After wrangling about it, the group decides to go after all. The leader they choose is indecisive and epileptic, a dangerous combo. Bibi goes along as the disembodied voice-over.

Once in Myanmar, finally, they are noticed by a group of Karen tribesmen who decide that Rupert, the 15-year-old son of a bamboo grower is, in fact, Younger White Brother, or The Lord of the Nats. He can do card tricks and is carrying a Stephen King paperback. These are adjudged to be signs of his deity and ability to save them from marauding soldiers. The group is "kidnapped," although they think they are setting out for a Christmas Day surprise, and taken deep into the jungle where they languish, develop malaria, learn to eat slimy things and wait to be rescued. Nats are "believed to be the spirits of nature--the lake, the trees, the mountains, the snakes and birds. They were numberless ... They were everywhere, as were bad luck and the need to find reasons for it." Philosophy or cynicism? This elusive point of view is found throughout the novel--a bald statement is made and then Tan pulls her punches as if she is unwilling to make a statement that might set a more serious tone.

There are some goofy parts about Harry, the member of the group who is left behind, and his encounter with two newswomen from Global News Network, some slapstick sex scenes and a great deal of dog-loving dialogue. These all contribute to a novel that is silly but not really funny, could have an occasionally serious theme which suddenly disappears, and is about a group of stereotypical characters that it's hard to care about. It was time for Amy Tan to write another book; too bad this was it. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Tan (The Bonesetter's Daughter) delivers another highly entertaining novel, this one narrated from beyond the grave. San Francisco socialite and art-world doyenne Bibi Chen has planned the vacation of a lifetime along the notorious Burma Road for 12 of her dearest friends. Violently murdered days before takeoff, she's reduced to watching her friends bumble through their travels from the remove of the spirit world. Making the best of it, the 11 friends who aren't hung over depart their Myanmar resort on Christmas morning to boat across a misty lake—and vanish. The tourists find themselves trapped in jungle-covered mountains, held by a refugee tribe that believes Rupert, the group's surly teenager, is the reincarnation of their god Younger White Brother, come to save them from the unstable, militaristic Myanmar government. Tan's travelers, who range from a neurotic hypochondriac to the debonair, self-involved host of a show called The Fido Files, fight and flirt among themselves. While ensemble casting precludes the intimacy that characterizes Tan's mother-daughter stories, the book branches out with a broad plot and dynamic digressions. It's based on a true story, and Tan seems to be having fun with it, indulging in the wry, witty voice of Bibi while still exploring her signature questions of fate, connection, identity and family. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 474 pages
  • Publisher: GP Putnam's Sons & Random House Publishing Group; 1st edition (October 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399153012
  • ASIN: B002GJU418
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (340 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,044,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter's Daughter, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, and two children's books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa, which has now been adapted as a PBS production. Tan was also a co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club, and her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her work has been translated into thirty-five languages. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

139 of 146 people found the following review helpful By K. L. Cotugno VINE VOICE on December 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I found this book highly engaging and readable, the characters clearly defined. There was a great deal of humor, much of it black, and a great deal of heart. This book was a page turner with a message. Each character is a recognizable tourist type, and most of them would be horrified if they were saddled with the "Ugly American" label. But then, they really aren't "ugly" at all, but well meaning if clueless. On the other hand, the natives are not all innocents, and there is a lot of humor in the misdirections and misunderstandings that ensue. As I say in my title, I am glad I didn't read all these negative reviews first because I probably wouldn't have picked the book up at all and would have missed a nice reading experience.
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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By jeri hurd on November 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I adore Amy Tan's writing. I teach JLC to 10th graders every year, encourage them to go on and read The Kitchen God's Wife or The BoneSetter's Daughter. So when, on a trip to Singapore, I saw her latest novel, I pounced on it, dropped what I was currently reading and started in. Now, I'm the first to say Tan needed to move on; while her tales of family cultural conflict fascinate me, she's talented enough that I wanted to see her branch out. She has here, but not to good effect.

For a writer capable of such nuance and subtlety, I find SFFD oddly flat and predictable, naive even in its attempt to portray the cultural clash between her spoiled California tourists and their hapless kidnappers. Her characterizations are broad and obvious: the tourists think anything less than the Four Seasons is roughing it, travel with syringes and IV drips in case of disease, and effuse about wanting to experience the "real" people while sneering at the tourist route they are so blatantly part of. As a seasoned ex-pat myself, thse people are stereotypes among the travelling set, their broadly drawn characters failing to extend much beyond caricature. Yes, tourist can be patronizing and culturally insensitive and self-involved, all in the name of seeking an off-the-beaten-track experience, but Tan doesn't really tell us anything new, or even especially insightful here. Which is too bad, because her premise was wonderful.

Still, I give it a 3 because it is, after all, Amy Tan, and if we've grown to expect more from her, I'm not sure she should be penalized for writing that's only good, rather than her usual excellent. It is, in the end, a fun read. Just not as riveting as we're used to..
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63 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on October 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Fans of Amy Tan are in for a surprise with her latest novel, SAVING FISH FROM DROWNING. In this satirical tale of cross-cultural faux pas, international media, and uninformed American goodwill turned mostly bad, Ms. Tan writes an Asia-centered version of Tom Wolfe's BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (or perhaps Richard Dooling's WHITE MAN'S GRAVE). Only here, she substitutes Burma (Myanmar) for the Bronx and GNN (read CNN) for the media precipitator of much of the climactic action. The end result, much like Wolfe's 1987 novel, is amusing for its social commentary but light in its literary heft, substituting caricature and fantastic naivete for character and improbable events for plot. Nevertheless, the result is quite entertaining, although hardly likely to spawn any anti-CNN, save the rain forests, or boycott Burma movements.

Ms. Tan chooses as her storytelling vehicle the ghost of a wealthy art patron, Bibi Chen, who has just met an untimely and rather ghastly violent death. Bibi had already organized an art and culture tour for a number of her longtime friends that had planned to follow the fabled Burma Road from Lijiang in southwestern China (claimed by some to be the inspiration for Shangri-La) across the closed border into Myanmar. Despite Bibi's death, her friends decide to follow her itinerary with a new (and unbeknown to them, gay, seizure-prone, and completely inexperienced) guide, Bennie Trueba y Cela. A series of misadventures and misunderstandings plague their trip, most of which the omniscient Bibi-ghost is powerless to prevent, but the group eventually crosses the border with Bibi's mysterious help.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
This was my first Tan novel. I am glad to see that other readers do not consider it typical, for I found it hard to get into, I think because Tan's comic tone distances the emotional impact of the story. A group of well-heeled American tourists depart on a cultural tour of the Burma Road, from China into Myanmar. Bibi Chen, the tour's organizer, dies mysteriously just before departure, but Bibi nonetheless relates events as a ghostly (and often gossipy) narrator as the party departs without her. The group almost immediately gets into trouble by changing her careful plans. So perhaps Bibi is justified in her omnisciently patronizing air: the tourists are portrayed as shallow and behave crassly; the new settings are offbeat or downmarket; the comedy has a sour edge. It is hard to like any of the characters at this stage, and nothing is entirely believable.

So far, this is the package tour from hell. But the tone deepens towards the middle of the book, as the travelers get involved in a more serious situation, with both political and spiritual implications. We get to know some (but not all) of the characters better, to understand and even like them. The rainforest setting, a jungle anti-Eden inhabited by outcasts, is striking and thought-provoking. At times, I was even reminded of the empathy between captors and captives in Ann Patchett's magnificent BEL CANTO, which is high praise. But then Tan's comic sensibility resurfaces in a wryly cynical coda. While it wraps everything up neatly enough, it seems altogether too trivial for the large themes she had touched on earlier.
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