Saving Fish from Drowning Info

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During an ill-fated trip to Myanmar, eleven American tourists
are abducted by a renegade tribe that believes that Rupert, a surly
teenager with the group, is the reincarnation of their god Younger White
Brother, who has returned to save them from their country's
militaristic government, in a novel narrated by the ghost of the
murdered woman who had set up the trip. 400,000 first printing.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Saving Fish from Drowning:

1

Jun 21, 2007

I'm a huge fan of Amy Tan, and this book was a disappointment.
Saving Fish from Drowning was outside of her voice and style, and unlike her previous novels, it took me forever to get into it. I finally finished after forcing myself to do so.
Perhaps it's that I've come to expect her typical style that mixes magic, relationships, lessons learned and insight to Asian cultural. You could argue that Saving Fish from Drowning included those elements. However, I feel those pieces were not entwined I'm a huge fan of Amy Tan, and this book was a disappointment.
Saving Fish from Drowning was outside of her voice and style, and unlike her previous novels, it took me forever to get into it. I finally finished after forcing myself to do so.
Perhaps it's that I've come to expect her typical style that mixes magic, relationships, lessons learned and insight to Asian cultural. You could argue that Saving Fish from Drowning included those elements. However, I feel those pieces were not entwined into the same story, but secular themes in this novel. In addition the book was much longer than it need to be w/ details that were not pertinent to the conclusion.
Usually when I've finished a Tan book, I feel enlightened, or with a new perspective, or just happy I read the book. This story left me wondering what else I could have been reading instead.
I’m all about authors exploring new literary avenues. Unfortunately with this book, I feel the author left too much of herself behind in the process.
Still a loyal fan, I will absolutely be reading her next book.
...more
1

Aug 02, 2007

Oh Good Lord! What an awful waste of time!

This was a torture to finish, but I was really holding out for an ending that would make the misery worth while. But nay - that was not to be the case.

Here was an opportunity for a dozen world travelers to have an adventure. And they may have had one, but it HAD to be more interesting than the telling we got from Amy. Even the sexual escapades were boring. How can that be? How were these people so boring AND so gullible?

The characters were not Oh Good Lord! What an awful waste of time!

This was a torture to finish, but I was really holding out for an ending that would make the misery worth while. But nay - that was not to be the case.

Here was an opportunity for a dozen world travelers to have an adventure. And they may have had one, but it HAD to be more interesting than the telling we got from Amy. Even the sexual escapades were boring. How can that be? How were these people so boring AND so gullible?

The characters were not believeable, the plot was not believeable, the fact that none of them died of boredom was not believeable. Younger White Brother? Why not exploit that one a bit more.

I guess I should have known - another story told from the perspective of a ghost. I guess the dead but not crossed over just aren't very good story tellers. ...more
4

Jan 20, 2008

There is an anonymous quote in the preface that reads, "A pious man explained to his followers: "It is evil to take lives and noble to save them. Each day I pledge to save a hundred lives. I drop my net in the lake and scoop out a hundred fishes. I place the fishes on the bank, where they flop and twirl. "Don't be scared," I tell those fishes. "I am saving you from drowning." Soon enough, the fishes grow calm and lie still. Yet, sad to say, I am always too late. The fishes expire. And because it There is an anonymous quote in the preface that reads, "A pious man explained to his followers: "It is evil to take lives and noble to save them. Each day I pledge to save a hundred lives. I drop my net in the lake and scoop out a hundred fishes. I place the fishes on the bank, where they flop and twirl. "Don't be scared," I tell those fishes. "I am saving you from drowning." Soon enough, the fishes grow calm and lie still. Yet, sad to say, I am always too late. The fishes expire. And because it is evil to waste anything, I take those dead fishes to market and I sell them for a good price. With the money I receive, I buy more nets so I can save more fishes."

This book has been jostling around with me for the past year. I just couldn't settle down long enough to make my way into it. I am happy to have taken the swim, however, because Amy Tan never disappoints me. Never. She is an excellent story teller, and in this novel she has a way of suspending one's belief while expounding "ordinary" details about the story. I found myself thinking a few times, "Could that really happen?" Then I found myself just accepting things that I normally wouldn't - all in the name of being transported through fiction...one of my favorite things.

It deals much with morality, though some of you might not enjoy some of the characters' take on the subject. However, if you are interested in a tale involving a deceased narrator, appreciation for art, interpersonal relationships within a confined social group, an extended stay in the jungle of Burma where one is kidnapped without realizing it, and an extended commentary on the human rights abuses of the military junta in Burma (the junta have renamed it Myanmar, but with respect to the tale described in this book, let's all call it Burma, okay?)...consider it. ...more
5

Feb 18, 2009

I think I have read all of Amy Tan's books, but this one was completely different. To really understand it you have to believe that dead people can be channeled, and second you have to know a lot more about the history of Burma/ Myanmar than I do. I could never figure out if this was based on a real case, or whether it was based on a psychic's remembrances, or was just Amy sort of putting her readers on. However quirky and odd it is, and however she came up with the idea for the novel, I enjoyed I think I have read all of Amy Tan's books, but this one was completely different. To really understand it you have to believe that dead people can be channeled, and second you have to know a lot more about the history of Burma/ Myanmar than I do. I could never figure out if this was based on a real case, or whether it was based on a psychic's remembrances, or was just Amy sort of putting her readers on. However quirky and odd it is, and however she came up with the idea for the novel, I enjoyed it!

On some levels it is a travelogue, and in some ways it is a column in Conde Nast Traveller telling about how a trip can go wrong. In some ways it is a mystery, and in some ways it reminds you of Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible". It just doesn't fit smoothly into any one category, not even the category of Amy Tan novels. I would love to get other readers' "take" on it. This is a novel for someone who wants to read something very different than what he or she usually reads. ...more
3

Feb 28, 2009

From reading the back cover of this book, I expected something like The Poisonwood Bible. Some of the elements are similar: group of Americans visit third world country, spend time with the natives, have their preconceptions shattered through hardship and numerous misunderstandings. But this book was unsettlingly lighthearted. I think that Amy Tan was trying to write a book that treats the reader as a tourist, as someone who seeks a story that is exotic and adventurous without being too From reading the back cover of this book, I expected something like The Poisonwood Bible. Some of the elements are similar: group of Americans visit third world country, spend time with the natives, have their preconceptions shattered through hardship and numerous misunderstandings. But this book was unsettlingly lighthearted. I think that Amy Tan was trying to write a book that treats the reader as a tourist, as someone who seeks a story that is exotic and adventurous without being too disturbing. At one point the narrator discusses the difficulty of writing a book about the troubled world of Burma that will actually appeal to readers. Just as tourists hear about the atrocities committed by the military government and then forget about them in an isolated resort, readers hear horrible tales of murder and torture, only to have them buried in silly scenes like the visit to the temple in China, where the tourists conduct themselves in with shockingly bad behavior. It's an interesting idea, but it didn't work for me. The combination of tragedy and farce was too jarring.

The book was narrated by a ghost who had insight into everyone's thoughts and feelings. I did enjoy this aspect of the book. Although the characters were often irritating and self-centered, I felt that they were fairly real. Who wouldn't look a bit more ugly and self-important if presented through their private thoughts, rather than their more careful, calculated actions? ...more
1

Sep 04, 2008

If Tolstoy and Cecil B. DeMille collaborated on a novel, it would turn out something like this: A cast of thousands of miserable characters.

Saving Fish From Drowning was not a novel, but an endurance test. If I didn't have to facilitate a book group about this novel, I would not have read past the first 50 pages. I've heard great things about Amy Tan, and haven't read her other stuff -- and won't discount it based on this -- but lordy, I have no incentive to read her work now.

This novel is a If Tolstoy and Cecil B. DeMille collaborated on a novel, it would turn out something like this: A cast of thousands of miserable characters.

Saving Fish From Drowning was not a novel, but an endurance test. If I didn't have to facilitate a book group about this novel, I would not have read past the first 50 pages. I've heard great things about Amy Tan, and haven't read her other stuff -- and won't discount it based on this -- but lordy, I have no incentive to read her work now.

This novel is a claustrophobe's nightmare -- just when you think she can't introduce any more characters to an already overcrowded plot, she throws in another dozen or so. By the end of the book I found myself rooting for the military junta to kill everyone off, just so the book would end and I wouldn't have to try to keep everyone straight.

I know this book has been doing the book club circuit, but I am completely perplexed as to why. It seems after the first group read it they would have warned others away...

I'd get into the plot, but why bother? ...more
4

Nov 21, 2016

The Lovely Bones if it were set in China. This book is really gripping and somber, very well-written, and I'm surprised it has such low ratings, because I thought it was great. :(
5

Jul 26, 2012

I read this book a long time ago and should have written this review a long time ago.
What a wonder this book is!
Having read all of Amy Tan’s books, I expected good writing, serious cultural and gender themes, and disturbing realities.
What I did not expect was this book.
It is side splittingly, laugh out-loud, hilarious!
You get the usual significant wit, wisdom and writing chomps of Amy Tan, along with Swiftian satire, that is stand up comedian funny. Think Robin Williams relaxed.
Every bit of I read this book a long time ago and should have written this review a long time ago.
What a wonder this book is!
Having read all of Amy Tan’s books, I expected good writing, serious cultural and gender themes, and disturbing realities.
What I did not expect was this book.
It is side splittingly, laugh out-loud, hilarious!
You get the usual significant wit, wisdom and writing chomps of Amy Tan, along with Swiftian satire, that is stand up comedian funny. Think Robin Williams relaxed.
Every bit of this book is entertaining. The first half most so, where the scene is set: The San Francisco cultural elite, hook up with a famous British dog trainer, and other assorted perfectly spoofed politically correct characters, to go on an “authentic travel experience” to Burma.
The San Francisco, Chinese, female, opera-loving main character is dead, but don’t worry, she is still the main character, and she took good care of her dog “poochini” in her will.
I loved the “wind instrument symphony” in the hotel the most.
If you want to have fun, read this book.
...more
4

Oct 12, 2008

It took me awhile to read this novel. Each paragraph holds thoughtful meanings and insight that aren't quickly digested but gradually enjoyed. Human nature, what we are about, what I do and why I do what I do, are some things stirred up. I love all of Amy Tan's writing. Her history of China is right there with Buck's The Good Earth. I would ask one thing of her. To keep writing novels.
4

Feb 02, 2008

I put off reading this book for a long time because of the horrible reviews. I can see some of the reviewers points, but overall, I really enjoyed this novel.

This is definitely a departure from Tan's normal novels about the relationships between Chinese-born mothers and their Chinese-American daughters. Although she does a wonderful job capturing the dynamics of those relationships, while weaving in fascinating glimpses of Chinese history, I'm glad to see her trying something new.

A few of the I put off reading this book for a long time because of the horrible reviews. I can see some of the reviewers points, but overall, I really enjoyed this novel.

This is definitely a departure from Tan's normal novels about the relationships between Chinese-born mothers and their Chinese-American daughters. Although she does a wonderful job capturing the dynamics of those relationships, while weaving in fascinating glimpses of Chinese history, I'm glad to see her trying something new.

A few of the characters in this novel are Chinese, but the majority are not. One of the criticisms I have read is that she has too many prominent characters and therefore spreads her character development too thin. I agree somewhat, but beyond the narrator, the recently deceased, but always bigger than life Bibi Chen, the plot is more important.

Plot-wise, this is also a huge change for Tan. This is an adventure novel which ventures into the land of magical realism. This begins with the idea that Bibi's spirit is following her friends on the trip through China and Burma that she was supposed to lead.

Thrown into the mix is a glimpse of life in the military regime of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Overall, this was a great read, which I found to be relatively quick, despite it's healthy length. ...more
3

May 30, 2007

Unlike others who have read all of Tan's books, I have only had the pleasure of reading The Joy Luck Club. Just going off that book I found Saving Fish from Drowning to be quite different.

While it held true to Tan's brilliant, rich way of writing and continued her analysis of human nature and relationships, she seemed to step outside of her usual comfort zone and the whole tone of the book took on that of a political adventure. One thing that was particularly unique and enjoyable was our Unlike others who have read all of Tan's books, I have only had the pleasure of reading The Joy Luck Club. Just going off that book I found Saving Fish from Drowning to be quite different.

While it held true to Tan's brilliant, rich way of writing and continued her analysis of human nature and relationships, she seemed to step outside of her usual comfort zone and the whole tone of the book took on that of a political adventure. One thing that was particularly unique and enjoyable was our narrator. She was an actual character but having died before the story began gave her an omniscience that allowed the reader to see past the first person perspective.

The book was slow to start and there were so many characters that any time to get to know and bond with them never happened. Also, with the exception of Bibi, most of the characters were two demensional at best. That could have been remedied by allowing the reader more time to get to know the characters better.

Really, with all that being said, I think that's the extent of my review. I did like the book but I don't think it garnered any more praise or reflection than what I've given. A good book and from what I've heard from others it was a departure from Tan's usual writings of Chinese-American mother-daughter relationships. So if you like Tan's writing but want something different from her usual style you got it here. If you've never read any Amy Tan, though, starting with this book may give you a wrong (and disappointing) first impression. ...more
2

Feb 28, 2008

I have waited awhile to post about this book because I like Amy Tan so much that I was hoping that the story would continue to resonate and lead me to learn that I liked the book more than I thought I had...no such luck.

There are many smart devices in the book and I continue to like and enjoy Amy Tan's voice - but I never got to the point where I cared so much about many of the characters in this book - although some were memorable.

I did discover while I was waiting that my visual image of Bibi I have waited awhile to post about this book because I like Amy Tan so much that I was hoping that the story would continue to resonate and lead me to learn that I liked the book more than I thought I had...no such luck.

There are many smart devices in the book and I continue to like and enjoy Amy Tan's voice - but I never got to the point where I cared so much about many of the characters in this book - although some were memorable.

I did discover while I was waiting that my visual image of Bibi Chen matched nearly exactly that of Edna Mode - the SuperHero clothes designer in "The Incredibles". Bibi is a great character and I am glad that the mystery of her demise was tidied up by the end of the book.

I was also amused by the series of miracles that occured at the "Lajamee" camp - and liked the manipulation of the American tourists (those who believe that if you wish to make a difference - you can) It is a wonderful American quality that I hope I subscribe to myself - but it can lead to a lot of naivete as well.

I did have to check into whether Bibi and the 11 missing tourists existed ("I'm fairly tuned into world news - wouldn't I remember?"). NPR set me straight.

...more
4

Apr 10, 2012

This was a book club selection that I was NOT going to read. I read The Joy Luck Club a few years back & didn't care for it at all, so reading another Amy Tan book was not on the top of my list. But the back of Saving Fish had a review by Isabelle Allende, whom I adore. I decided to read 30 pages because I couldn't imagine Isabelle steering me wrong. If I hated it (which I figured would be the case) I would quit the book. Well, I enjoyed Saving Fish immensely. My favorite books transport me This was a book club selection that I was NOT going to read. I read The Joy Luck Club a few years back & didn't care for it at all, so reading another Amy Tan book was not on the top of my list. But the back of Saving Fish had a review by Isabelle Allende, whom I adore. I decided to read 30 pages because I couldn't imagine Isabelle steering me wrong. If I hated it (which I figured would be the case) I would quit the book. Well, I enjoyed Saving Fish immensely. My favorite books transport me to places I will likely never see & this book did just that. At the beginning I had issue with remembering all the characters, but I didn't care because the story was so compelling. My only complaint is that the last chapter was a little choppy & didn't flow as well as the rest of the book. It seemed like a VH1 Where Are They Now episode. Other than that, I'm an Amy Tan convert, thanks to Isabelle Allende. ...more
4

Apr 05, 2018

Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning is the first Tan book I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and it's safe to say it will most certainly not be the last. At times dreamy, at times direct and to the point, Tan's surreal and harrowing tale of adventure oftentimes seems almost to enter the realm of magical realism. I must say that this book was one of the most effortless reads I have ever dived into - not once did I ever find myself having to glance back a page or pause to figure out what was Amy Tan's Saving Fish from Drowning is the first Tan book I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and it's safe to say it will most certainly not be the last. At times dreamy, at times direct and to the point, Tan's surreal and harrowing tale of adventure oftentimes seems almost to enter the realm of magical realism. I must say that this book was one of the most effortless reads I have ever dived into - not once did I ever find myself having to glance back a page or pause to figure out what was happening. I don't think I've ever read an author whose style was so graceful and gentle. That isn't to say, of course, that Tan's book is simple - it's a complex adventure tale full of myth and cultural insight - but Amy Tan's writing style makes a story as full of complexity as this one much, much easier to read and enjoy.

The narrator of the story is a now-dead woman named Bibi Chen, who has apparently resurrected from her death in spirit form as she now follows a group of her friends as they embark on a vacation to China and, later on, Burma. Apparently Bibi had planned the entire trip for them before her untimely death, and the friends decide to carry on and go on the trip despite their dear friend’s passing. Saving Fish from Drowning is heartwarming and simple, while also touching on a plethora of cultural and political issues surrounding life in Asia and specifically Myanmar/Burma. Bibi’s friends find themselves lost and stuck in the jungle eventually with an isolated and persecuted tribe, and Amy Tan gives us the viewpoints of all the travelers, courtesy of the narration of the dead Bibi Chen. It’s a clever method of narration that allows Tan to give us a multitude of perspectives without coming off as cheap or lazy. A subtle and witty undercurrent of satire and humor permeates the book as well - Tan clearly takes advantage of the rich trust-fund characters who make up the group of travelers in the story. While at first I found the end of the book a little on the anti-climactic side, and some readers might find themselves feeling disappointed, in retrospect isn’t real life usually anti-climactic in its own humorous way? I think this is the message that Tan wants the reader to understand - even on a journey of mythical proportions in the deepest jungles, sometimes the greatest surprise in life is found in the simple things. And sometimes, there is no surprise at all, only our own musings and memories of the journey. Saving Fish from Drowning conveys this message masterfully, all in the simple and elegant prose found in Tan’s tale of wonder and adventure. ...more
3

Nov 09, 2016

From the book jacket Twelve American tourists join an art expedition that begins in the Himalayan foothills of China and heads south into the jungles of Burma. But after the mysterious death of their tour leader, the carefully laid plans fall apart and disharmony breaks out among the pleasure-seekers as they come to discover that the Burma Road is paved with less-than-honorable intentions, questionable food, and tribal curses. And then, on Christmas morning, eleven of the travelers boat across a From the book jacket Twelve American tourists join an art expedition that begins in the Himalayan foothills of China and heads south into the jungles of Burma. But after the mysterious death of their tour leader, the carefully laid plans fall apart and disharmony breaks out among the pleasure-seekers as they come to discover that the Burma Road is paved with less-than-honorable intentions, questionable food, and tribal curses. And then, on Christmas morning, eleven of the travelers boat across a misty lake for a sunrise cruise – and disappear.

My reactions
I like Tan’s writing. She has the ability to plop me right into the middle of a completely different culture. This story, narrated by the ghost of Bibi Chen (the group’s recently deceased tour guide), has some elements of magical realism. Tan deftly explores the ways in which American tourists make “innocent” mistakes that have significant consequences.

Some of the characters were irritating because of their know-it-all attitude; others (especially the two youngsters) were petulant and bored. They ignored advice and warnings, made little effort to truly understand the culture, and took unnecessary risks. Their unreasonable expectations drove me crazy and made me cringe for the impression they left on the locals they encountered. And yet … by the end they seemed genuinely moved by the generosity and kindness of the people, and were eager to help (if misguided in their efforts).

At 474 pages, this is longer than it needs to be. I got the point long before the tourists did, and I think a good editor might have helped Tan trim about 100 pages. Still, I enjoyed it and was entertained throughout.

Tan narrates the audio version herself. She really personified Bibi, and I felt as though I were hearing a tall tale directly from the character. A few of her attempts at Australian or Swiss/German or British accents went rather awry, but, again, it was as if Bibi Chen were telling the story and trying to add color to the tale so I forgave Tan.
...more
5

Jun 02, 2012

Well, it only took two months, but I finished "Saving Fish From Drowning," the final Amy Tan novel. And one of my favorites.

So why did it take me so long to finish reading this a second time? To the point where I lost ALL WILL to read at all for two months?

Because this is a thick, slogging book of intensity.

"Fish" is not an easy read. Oh, sure on a micro level it is. There's not too many hard ideas and certainly no difficult words or sentences to trod through, but on a macro scale it's brain Well, it only took two months, but I finished "Saving Fish From Drowning," the final Amy Tan novel. And one of my favorites.

So why did it take me so long to finish reading this a second time? To the point where I lost ALL WILL to read at all for two months?

Because this is a thick, slogging book of intensity.

"Fish" is not an easy read. Oh, sure on a micro level it is. There's not too many hard ideas and certainly no difficult words or sentences to trod through, but on a macro scale it's brain sucking mind-number.

The approach and basic gist of the story is simple: 12 American tourists, all immensely spoiled and unrepentantly Western go on a Christmas visit to southern China followed by Myanmar. During this trip they create every foreigner faux pas possibly, from peeing on fertility goddesses to getting mixed up with junta. (And a side of every sickness under the sun.) Eventually, they are absconded by a hidden Karen tribe that are convinced the young boy in their group is the second coming of The Younger White Brother, who will save them from the oppressive regime of Myanmar's militaristic government.

Sounds a bit...bizarre? It is. Because the tribe is convinced they are going to be saved by getting a hit reality show on American TV.

"Saving Fish From Drowning" is not the usual Amy Tan fare. And for that, I'm glad. There is a hint of the usual Chinese mother-daughter theme here, but overall it is a long, winding tale of American superiority clashing with Southeast Asian sensibilities. The thing that makes it really unique, both for Tan and modern literature as a whole, is the narration style. You see, the book is narrated by a ghost. Not just any ghost. An omniscient ghost, who can go into anyone's head at any moment. With over 12 characters, that comes in pretty handy.

Our beloved narrator is Bibi Chen, a recently perished art critic who was the original organizer for our Americans' Asian trip. Due to her untimely death (the circumstances of which remain a mystery until the end) the trip is handed off to one of the 12, who is, of course, completely in over his head. Nothing on the trip goes right from the beginning, and in the end, Bibi the ghost (who cannot communicate with the living world at all, only watch and report) is the only one who knows what's going on with either side. It's almost a comedy of errors. I say almost, because the comedy style is very dry and sarcastic (and sometimes downright black and bleak) while the errors could have easily been avoided to the point where you want to roll your eyes.

The biggest fault of this story comes with the narration style. It's very hard to do omniscient well, especially when it's very tempting to go into every single head and report for pages on end about what people are doing. I'm afraid Tan does fall into this trap. This story could've easily been cut down. But I do not feel that the extra length is a detriment to the overall story. Nor do I feel that this story falls into the Western Savior trap with the 12 Americans "saving" the oppressed Karen tribe. Because really, the Americans just make everything worse. Everywhere they go. From my own American point of view, I found this hilarious, especially as someone who has lived in Asia and seen American superiority ruin the most mundane things. And without giving too much away, the Americans don't really "save" the Karen tribe. But that's another thing I love about this story. The ending is not happy, nor it is "hopeful" or "tragic." It's just real. Some characters discover new points of of views in their lives, and others are completely ruined. Tan's dry way of pointing out rational American thinking is on point as usual.

As I mentioned above, this is not an "easy" read, unless you have a lot of time to kill. It's fairly time consuming. But it's a great read, full of hilarious scenarios and scenes full of so much second hand embarrassment you want to crawl beneath your bed covers and pretend you're not American (if you are.) Meanwhile, you will also be treated to amazing imagery, shockingly real dialogue, and, as they say, a whole lotta heart. Amy Tan outdoes herself in this book. But don't come into it expecting another Joy Luck Club. Come into it expecting a large, multi-layered story about the human condition's ability to have too much hope for its own good. ...more
5

Feb 04, 2009

this is the first book i read the intro, and i am glad i did. the author was wandering in nyc when rain forced her to seek refuge in the American Psychical Institute. there she found a volume on "automatic writing," in which there was a factual decription of a woman who was experiencing auto writing from a woman Bibi Chen. Bibi Chen was not an imagined person - she was an actual person that Amy Tan knew. The writings are further authenticated because the subject matter was the recent this is the first book i read the intro, and i am glad i did. the author was wandering in nyc when rain forced her to seek refuge in the American Psychical Institute. there she found a volume on "automatic writing," in which there was a factual decription of a woman who was experiencing auto writing from a woman Bibi Chen. Bibi Chen was not an imagined person - she was an actual person that Amy Tan knew. The writings are further authenticated because the subject matter was the recent disappearance of 11 american tourists in Burma. The book is Amy Tan's embellished, fictional account of Bibi's ghost writings. The 11 characters are a varied, interesting, imperfect bunch, and Tan's elaborate description of their humorous, often frightening encounters is engaging. The 12th equally interesting character is Tan's description of their surroundings in China and Myanmar (Burma) - the landscape, the people, the superstitions, and the traditions.
I am currently at the turning point in the book and can't wait to finish... ...more
3

Nov 29, 2010

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news...


Author Tan back in the swim
'Fish' departs from Chinese-American tales, features Chaucer spin
Jenny Shank, Special to the News
Published October 28, 2005 at midnight

Amy Tan's last book, 2003's nonfiction collection The Opposite of Fate, closed with an essay about her struggle with Lyme disease. Tan described increasingly alarming symptoms, including joint pain, difficulty with organization, and visual hallucinations, and she left her fans with a cliff hanger: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news...


Author Tan back in the swim
'Fish' departs from Chinese-American tales, features Chaucer spin
Jenny Shank, Special to the News
Published October 28, 2005 at midnight

Amy Tan's last book, 2003's nonfiction collection The Opposite of Fate, closed with an essay about her struggle with Lyme disease. Tan described increasingly alarming symptoms, including joint pain, difficulty with organization, and visual hallucinations, and she left her fans with a cliff hanger: When she wrote that essay, it wasn't clear if she'd ever be able to write another novel.

With the publication of her new novel, Saving Fish from Drowning (her first since 2001's The Bonesetter's Daughter), Tan's admirers can breathe easy.

In a phone interview from her San Francisco home, Tan said that during the worst days of her illness, "It's like pieces of my brain were sand, just rolling out, and I felt I was trying to gather the sand before it completely leaked out."

She worried that she'd never be able to complete another book, but added, "What's kind of strange, however, is that you feel apathetic. I would be anxious about my not being able to think that well and work, but on the other hand, I didn't have the energy to fight it that much."

You might think that once Tan was finally diagnosed and began to improve, she would go easy on herself and tell a simple story, but shirking a challenge has never been her approach. Saving Fish from Drowning is a sprawling, 500-page tale with more than a dozen main characters and just as many plot lines. The book marks a departure for the author, as it's the first of her novels that doesn't largely focus on Chinese and Chinese-American characters and mother-daughter themes.

Instead, it tells the story of a group of 12 Americans of different ages, genders and ethnicities on a trip in China and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), who end up trapped in the jungle village of a persecuted minority tribe.

A touch of the familiar Tan comes through in the voice of the deceased narrator, the dynamic Bibi Chen, a San Francisco art maven whose mysterious murder begins the tale. Chen is fictional, and all of the events in the novel are likewise products of Tan's imagination, but Tan's playful approach with the book's opening might leave some readers unsure.

In "A Note To The Reader," Tan describes an unusual event that sparked the book's creation. Caught in the rain in Manhattan, she writes, she ducked into a building called the "American Society for Psychical Research," where she found the "automatic writings" that a California woman claimed had been dictated to her by the spirit of Bibi Chen.

This tale sounds far-fetched enough for fiction, but anyone who has read The Opposite of Fate, replete with tales of bizarre spiritual occurrences in Tan's life, is primed to believe the author's reports of strange coincidences and ghosts.

"I wanted to start this book off with everything in there being a question of what's true and what's not true," Tan said. "So, for example, in the epigraph, you have something that was said by Camus that was truly something he said, and then you have a quote attributed to anonymous which was actually written by me."

Similarly, although there is a real American Society for Psychical Research, it contains no automatic writing that Tan used directly for the novel. When Tan visited the Society, she said, "there were files on automatic writing and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if a whole book were just sitting right there for me and I could just take it home and copy it?' So that part was made up, and the whole thing about Bibi Chen - that wasn't anybody that ever existed . . ."

"But the strange thing is," Tan continued, "I had a friend read this book early on, and he said, 'It's great that you actually knew this woman and that this all took place in your home town.' And I said, 'What are you talking about?' And he said, 'Well, you knew Bibi.' And I said, 'Bibi? You think she's real?' And he said, 'Well yes, of course.' And I said, 'Do you remember a story about a woman who was murdered in San Francisco who was really well known?' " said Tan, referring to her fictional backstory for Bibi Chen. "And he goes, 'Yeah, I think I do.' "

While Tan fashioned the book after Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, centered on 12 people who go on a journey, she also wanted to include her deceased mother in the story.

"I had just lost her just a few months before I finished The Bonesetter's Daughter, and suddenly I realized at the end of it that it wasn't that I had to write another mother-daughter story, but that my mother - her voice - could be the narrator. She could be the dead narrator, the dead travel guide, and she could have all that humor and wry observation and feistiness that my mother had and she could come along on the trip."

Although Tan wrote with the Canterbury Tales in mind, one of the few detectable traces of this influence is in the name of one character, Harry Bailley, who was the innkeeper in Chaucer's tales and surfaces as "a British-born celebrity dog trainer" in Tan's novel. "I don't think most people would catch that," Tan said. "These are little things that are more like postcards to myself. "

Another Chaucer-like touch is the humorous tone of Tan's novel: Although it begins with a murder and includes a host of misfortunes, the book is a fun read, and the overall effect is comic. Tan said the choice to leaven some of the serious underlying issues of the book - which touches on questions of human rights in Myanmar - was a conscious one.

"It's a comic novel because I wanted to address something that was very serious, something that disturbed me that was about morality and ignorance and intentions and about a situation in the world that is very, very sad," Tan said. "And the only way that I felt that I could approach it was with humor. Humor to me is a way of opening yourself up. . . you're not approaching a subject with extreme reverence that makes the complete picture impossible to see. With humor you just sort of shake loose everything that is in you and when you're opened up you can confront what is darker and harder to look at."

Much of this humor is conveyed through Bibi Chen's wry narration. Chen, who was supposed to be the group's tour guide before her murder, instead serves as a ghostly guide, keeping readers entertained with observations such as: "Throughout history, many a world leader was injudiciously influenced by his malfunctioning bladder, bowels, and other private parts. Didn't Napoleon lose at Waterloo because he couldn't sit in a saddle, on account of hemorrhoids?"

Saving Fish from Drowning is in large part a rollicking travel narrative, and Tan does a masterful job of capturing the unease Americans feel when traveling in countries where they don't understand the language, especially at border crossings and passport checks where scowling, armed officials often engage in "ten minutes of inspecting and stamping and huffing with authority."

Tan teases the reader with such scenes, by having Bibi state right away that the trip is going to go awry. But true to the book's comic tone, some of Bibi's most ominous foreshadowing presages a group bout of traveler's diarrhea. Tan said she included this event partly for "verisimilitude."

"I was recently going into the interior of China, and you're on a bus being jostled about for eight hours a day, bumping up and down and knocking your head into the window, and there were people having diarrhea. There's never been a trip I've been on that somebody did not have a problem like that. For me that just had to be in there because it would have been unrealistic to have nobody get sick."

Suspense builds throughout the book as the reader wonders what is going to become of these bumbling, very American travelers. Tan "wanted to bring the story to a point that I knew was going to be very uncomfortable," she said. "As they go further on this journey, they're going to encounter deeper and deeper moral issues for themselves," and become increasingly unsettled by the country's repressive regime.

With all of the confusion, cultural missteps, and ominous signs throughout the novel, the ending may surprise some readers. "What I hoped to get across is that we simply left the story off at a certain part of their (the characters') lives that is to me on some scale of happiness, probably right there about in the middle, and you don't know for certain which way their lives are going to go."

As for Tan's life, a year and a half ago she embarked on a project with the composer Stuart Wallace to reinterpret The Bonesetter's Daughter as an American opera. She estimates the opera will premier in 2008.

"What I've learned from all of it is that you cannot translate an original work to another form, to another medium. You have to really take it all apart and pare it down to literally its bones and then recast it and recreate it with the bones in a different configuration and give it its own life."

Tan is clearly back on her feet and making up for lost time. "I went through quite a period of struggle there," she admits, "and it really just took finally getting treatment so that my brain could come back. It was literally as though the fog had cleared when finally I started getting better." ...more
2

Jan 04, 2009

Description: San Francisco art patron Bibi Chen has planned a journey of the senses along the farmed Burma Road for eleven lucky friends. But after her mysterious death, Bibi watches aghast from her ghostly perch as the travelers veer off her itinerary and embark on a trail paved with cultural gaffes and tribal curses, Buddhist illusions and romantic desires. On Christmas morning, the tourists cruise across a misty lake and disappear.

With picaresque characters and mesmerizing imagery, Saving Description: San Francisco art patron Bibi Chen has planned a journey of the senses along the farmed Burma Road for eleven lucky friends. But after her mysterious death, Bibi watches aghast from her ghostly perch as the travelers veer off her itinerary and embark on a trail paved with cultural gaffes and tribal curses, Buddhist illusions and romantic desires. On Christmas morning, the tourists cruise across a misty lake and disappear.

With picaresque characters and mesmerizing imagery, Saving Fish from Drowning gives us a voice as idiosyncratic, sharp, and affectionate as the mothers of the Joy Luck Club, Bibi is the observant eye of human nature- the witness of good intentions and bad outcomes, of desperate souls and those who wish to save themselves. In the end, Tan takes her readers to that place in their own heart where hope is found.

meh ...more
4

Apr 25, 2008

i listened to this on audio, read by the author. i love amy tan, but they really should have found a professional reader. ms. tan has several different characters with british or australian accents and her accents are all over the place and very distracting. that being said, the book was enjoyable. i felt like the ending dragged on a bit long (you know how most of the time, when you’re done reading a book , you sit back and wonder, “and then what? what happens next? well, you don’t have to i listened to this on audio, read by the author. i love amy tan, but they really should have found a professional reader. ms. tan has several different characters with british or australian accents and her accents are all over the place and very distracting. that being said, the book was enjoyable. i felt like the ending dragged on a bit long (you know how most of the time, when you’re done reading a book , you sit back and wonder, “and then what? what happens next? well, you don’t have to wonder in this book. she spends the last disc and a half explaining what happens to each character for pretty much the remainder of their lives. it was much less satisfying than i’d ever thought it might be.) but during the book itself, i thought she did a marvelous job of portraying very real characters traveling in a very foreign country. these were not your stereotypical tourists–they were prepared for eventualities, they felt that they were open-minded and conscientious, but every time that a character would do something or react in a way that i recognized as what i would have done myself in that situation, the author points out how misguided or mistaken the character was. she also did an excellent job of portraying how easily serious miscommunication can happen when the language barrier exists (especially when there are basic differences in the ways societies operate). not only was it an entertaining read, i also felt like i might have gained insights into an unfamiliar culture and become more aware of pitfalls that can happen when you assume that everyone comes from a similar background to you. even parts of your “background” that you take for granted or maybe don’t even realize that exist. ...more
5

Feb 14, 2013

I've read several reviews of this book and people seem to either love it or hate it
I loved it
The characters are full and believable - I feel as if I have known them all for years
Ms. Tan chooses as her storyteller the ghost of Bibi Chen,a wealthy art patron, who has just met an untimely and 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 I've read several reviews of this book and people seem to either love it or hate it
I loved it
The characters are full and believable - I feel as if I have known them all for years
Ms. Tan chooses as her storyteller the ghost of Bibi Chen,a wealthy art patron, who has just met an untimely and 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, a completely inexperienced guide, Bennie.
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. Once in Myanmar, more misunderstandings occur and the twelve travelers find themselves unknowingly involved with members of a Burmese minority group called the Karen. All but one of Bibi's group disappear into the deep jungle on what they believe is a Christmas surprise part of their tour, but the rest of the world believes they have either been lost, killed, or kidnapped by anti-government insurgents.
I won't tell the rest or it would spoil the story for you ...more
1

Sep 11, 2008

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. - I didn’t like this book at all. I never bonded with the characters and couldn’t wait to finish. The story is told from a dead woman’s perspective. That should have been my first clue. She dies right before she is suppose to be a tour guide for a trip to Burma (or Myanmar as it is now known). The group goes anyway. They start in China, but because of their lack of respect for the land and natural exhibits, they are “kicked out” and told they are not welcome. So the get to Myanmar early. The - I didn’t like this book at all. I never bonded with the characters and couldn’t wait to finish. The story is told from a dead woman’s perspective. That should have been my first clue. She dies right before she is suppose to be a tour guide for a trip to Burma (or Myanmar as it is now known). The group goes anyway. They start in China, but because of their lack of respect for the land and natural exhibits, they are “kicked out” and told they are not welcome. So the get to Myanmar early. The story’s climax is when they get taken to this tribes domain deep in the woods. They don’t realize it but they are actually being kidnapped. The tribe thinks the young boy is actually a spirit that has returned to save them. All because of a card trick. The group does get away at the end. I thought the writing was way too detailed. It dragged in many places. I had a really hard time finishing it. As a result, I won’t ever read another one of her books even if they are suppose to be much better than this one. ...more
5

Oct 30, 2017

Wow. I purchased this book at our library used book sale for one dollar and it gave me such pleasure to read it. Amy Tan's pages are filled with quirky people, exotic adventures, nail-biting suspense. She seems fascinated by the clash of cultures in the hinterlands of Asia. We follow a group of American travelers from China to Burma where they fall into a cultural abyss that takes them back a century in time. Initially the Americans are concerned with their creature comforts - what is for Wow. I purchased this book at our library used book sale for one dollar and it gave me such pleasure to read it. Amy Tan's pages are filled with quirky people, exotic adventures, nail-biting suspense. She seems fascinated by the clash of cultures in the hinterlands of Asia. We follow a group of American travelers from China to Burma where they fall into a cultural abyss that takes them back a century in time. Initially the Americans are concerned with their creature comforts - what is for dinner, will the accommodations be adequate. They are oblivious to hardship, want, and need of the local tribespeople. Military and civilian authorities of Burma have committed murderous acts that reverberate through its victims lives for generations, and introduce the tourists to a new reality. Our narrator has an omniscient view of the entire sphere of activity and a lively sense of humor. She adds spice to the story. ...more
3

Feb 27, 2012

I listened to this audio CD as I drove from home in central Virginia to visit my Dad in southeastern Michigan. I missed one turn in Ohio due to distracted driving and decided that this is not the best way to experience a book. I did find some humor and satire in the listening but think that I will still keep the actual book on my shelf to read one day. I had some special interest in the book when I realized that its setting is in Burma, a country much in the news recently. The book was published I listened to this audio CD as I drove from home in central Virginia to visit my Dad in southeastern Michigan. I missed one turn in Ohio due to distracted driving and decided that this is not the best way to experience a book. I did find some humor and satire in the listening but think that I will still keep the actual book on my shelf to read one day. I had some special interest in the book when I realized that its setting is in Burma, a country much in the news recently. The book was published in 2005, thus preceding the election of 2010 that nominally replaced the longstanding military dictatorship. This CD version is noted as Abridged and read by the author, Amy Tan. ...more
5

Mar 22, 2015

This was an intelligently written first novel. The characters were strange and plus several of the characters you could not get a sense for until the end. The journey described was full of various adventures which left the reader wondering what is going on. But, the writing was superb.

Life Lesson: We all must find our place in life for God to take over.

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