Book # 23
Book Title: Saving Fish from Drowning
Author: Amy Tan
# of pages: 474
My rating of the book, F- [worst] to A [best].: B-
Short description/summary of the book: [from Amazon]
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.
Would you believe that this is my first Amy Tan book? I never thought her books even sounded interesting (mother daughter relationship in a Chinese-American family? -_-), but this one sounded great and interesting and was, all in all, an enjoyable read. Thanks for the book Lady Jane!
Hard to say what I thought about this book. It held more weight when I thought it was based on a true story, however, reading through an interview, she said that the Note to the Reader at the beginning was, alas, fictional. It starts off somber, with the funeral of the dead narrator, which continues to inject a dark humour into the book. When I was reading it, the story line was going along, but there was always this foreboding, even when nothing was really going wrong, since you knew something was going to happen, and also, when the omnipotent narrator would often say ‘If only they knew what was going to happen.’ All this darkness overshadowing the entire story, storm clouds waiting to burst, expect the worst. And it brought back a very unsettling feeling of the idea of going somewhere on an innocent vacation and having something happen and never coming back (a distinctly real worry my stay in China invoked in me). When thinking back, perhaps this feeling the book tried to bring about was just a little too strong, maybe she pushed it a little too much, because, in the end, it didn’t really seem to amount to much. The characters, who were at first interesting, sort of became static. It was interesting, when their journey started, to see how they interacted with each other, a common feeling of being put into situations were you become ‘family’ to people you don’t really know. It was interesting to get into the minds of the characters through the narrator, though somewhat bizarre. I really did enjoy the descriptions of the travel and the country (and the parts of China that I had been too!), but the expectations I had at the beginning of the book for darkness and mystery and despair were unfulfilled. The darkness was, at best, dark humour, which was usually out of place; the mystery was, really, no mystery at all; the situation they found themselves in was, really, not that bad (not enough for all the damning comments and all those, ‘Dun dun DUUUNNN’ moments, I could almost hear that in my head) and the emotions seemed 2 dimensional. You had a hard time, at the end, identifying with the situation and the characters, it just stopped seeming real.
So, all this dark and foreboding and, in the end, (hope I don’t spoil anyone), everything turned out fine, no one died, was hurt, had a bad experience, and everyone lived happily ever after.
I don’t know if I would be as damning as the reviews on Amazon, I really did enjoy this book and some of the characters while reading it, but it sort of fell apart at the end.
however, remind me what I always disliked about those tourist groups we would
run across, damn Americans, lol.
Currently reading : School books :P Machiavelli, textbooks, etc.