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Saving Fish from Drowning Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 18, 2005
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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
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Top Customer Reviews
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..
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A fascinating 'spoof' which said a lot about the past (and maybe the present) situation in Burma. It's very funny but also wise.Published 28 days ago by Unbiased
I enjoyed this book because Amy Tan is a consummate story-teller. The book seems to shift in tone as it progresses: from supernatural tale to adventure story to romance and... Read morePublished 3 months ago by peaceandquiet
The book is in very good condition, I wouldn't describe it as "like new" but overall a very good copy and still happy with my purchase.Published 3 months ago by Nora Broger
Arrived in perfect condition. Amy tan is simply the best at story telling.Published 3 months ago by Ronald M.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up this book, since it looked like a departure from some of Tan's previous works. And it is, in a way, but I enjoyed it tremendously. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Laela Ae
I know not everyone was about this book, and some of the comments I agree with, but I still loved it. The characters were at times likeable and at times infuriating. Read morePublished 4 months ago by P. OBRIEN
A terrible disappointment, ms tan is usually a sure bet, but not this time.Published 8 months ago by Collette in Canada
For readers who are already familiar with Amy Tan novels, this novel will be surprising, because it does not concern itself with her usual specific examination of family dynamics,... Read morePublished 9 months ago by gammyraye