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Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

Saving Fish from Drowning (2005)

by Amy Tan

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Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
I thought I hated Amy Tan after reading The Joy Luck Club, but I'm glad I gave this novel a try; it's worlds away from Joy Luck Club. Saving Fish From Drowning is funny, insightful, and intelligent and makes you really think as well as laugh out loud. Tan doesn't bash the reader over the head with symbolism here. This work shows a more mature writer with mastery of her literary powers. The changes could be due to the novel's odd provenance; Tan claims the basic tale was written by the ghost of San Fransisco socialite Bibi Chen and Tan only elaborated from this starting point. True or not, it has made for a magical novel. ( )
  BethHatchel | Oct 31, 2015 |
My book club has chosen this book for September 2015 and even though I am going to miss the meeting I wanted to read the book. I've read a few other books by Amy Tan but this one seemed quite different. Just as good but different.

A tour group from San Francisco is slated to travel to China and Myanmar in December 2000. The tour was organized by Bibi Chen, proprietor of a shop that sold Chinese antiques. She was also a rich woman who gave generously to local causes. Unfortunately she was found dead in her shop shortly before the tour was due to start. Ostensibly Bibi Chen continued to have consciousness and she dictated this book to a medium in Berkley California and Amy Tan found out about it in The Society for Psychical Research in New York City.

The rest of the tour group decided to go ahead since pulling out at this late date would mean they would lose almost all the money they paid. They found an alternative leader, Bennie, and headed off. Bennie was not possessed of much knowledge about the area but he did read Bibi's extensive notes. Unfortunately, he was also the type of person who was more interested in trying to please everyone instead of persuading them to stick to the schedule. So right from the first the tour went downhill as members of the group went their own way or wanted changes to the itinerary. In China they managed to insult a tribal leader by desecrating a sacred shrine and he cursed them. Whether or not that was the reason the tour certainly went to hell from then on. In Myanmar the whole group except one person who was too drunk to make an early morning boat ride was kidnapped and taken to a remote jungle location. The news of their disappearance made international headlines and tourists left the country or cancelled arrangements. It was a disaster for the country but maybe something could be done.

The book is much more humourous than that above description makes it sound. If you have ever been on a tour bus you will recognize many of the personalities. It is easy to laugh at them when you don't have to physically put up with them. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jul 30, 2015 |
The premise of a group of tourists disappearing in a political hotbed like Burma/Myanmar had potential, but it got lost in Tan’s ramblings. There's a lot of political commentary, with gory descriptions of atrocities perpetrated against the tribal people, but it’s just a sidebar to the stereotypical self-absorption of the tourists. There’s way too much information about some of the characters (Harry’s previous wives) and not enough about others (What was Vera’s story?). The satirical poke at the media was the best part, highlighting how much of “news” is actually fiction. But for me, there was too much silly fantasy, like the narration provided by the murdered Bibi Chen; the legend of the Younger White Brother; and the somewhat creepy, "divine" twins, Loot and Bootie. Also, it appears Tan is obsessed with sexual symbolism: there's the Grotto of Female Genitalia (not its real name); the phallic plant with aphrodisiac properties; various couples having sex in inappropriate places...TMI! Ultimately, not Tan's best work. ( )
  sushitori | Aug 25, 2014 |
“Just saying we should be aware of the consequences. You can’t have intentions without consequences. The question is, who pays for the consequences? Saving fish from drowning. Same thing. Who’s saved? Who’s not?” - from Saving Fish From Drowning, page 163 -

Bibi Chen is a well-known patron of the arts in San Francisco when she is found dead. Her death might be murder, but who knows? Even Bibi herself, who remains on earth in spirit form, is unsure of how she died. Before her death, Bibi had planned a journey of the senses for her friends – a trip to China and then along the Burma Road…and she intends to still go with them to see how they do without her.

Narrated in the omniscient voice of Bibi, Saving Fish From Drowning takes the reader on a journey to the East, into a country rife with political drama where anything can happen…and does. Tan intentionally blurs fact and fiction, and explores the consequences (intended or not) of our choices and intentions. Almost from the start, Bibi’s friends change their itinerary and wander astray, deliciously ignorant of the differences in culture, religion and political atmosphere from their home in the United States vs. that in Burma and China.

She had heard that many Americans, especially those who travel to China, love Buddhism. She did not realize that the Buddhism the Americans before her loved was Zen-like, a for of not-thinking, not-moving, and not-eating anything living, like buffaloes. This blank-minded Buddhism was practiced by well-to-do people in San Francisco and Marin County, who bought organic-buckwheat pillows for sitting on the floor, who paid experts to teach them to empty their minds of the noise of life. This was quite different from the buffalo-torture and bad-karma Buddhism found in China. - from Saving Fish From Drowning, page 77 -

The characters in the novel are lovingly imagined, idiosyncratic and deeply complex. Tan writes with a sardonic humor to explore her themes of morality, consequences, and the connections between people of different cultures and socioeconomic means. There are surprising twists, and insights into the characters and their situations.

Amy Tan is the consummate storyteller. She spins a fantastic yarn in this novel, and in the process delights and entertains the reader.

Highly recommended. ( )
  writestuff | Jun 18, 2014 |
I read this because I'm going to Burma. It was interesting. I had a hard time liking the narrator, and I think the book is insulting to the tribal people that are part of the story. ( )
  Insolito | May 19, 2014 |
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The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding. - Albert Camus
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, werhe 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. - Anonymous
For Lou DeMattei, Sandra Dijkstra and Molly Giles for saving me countless times.
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Synopsis for the Dutch edition:
"Tijdens een excursie in een van de zuidelijke staten van Myanmar (voorheen Birma) komen elf Amerikaanse toeristen al snel in de problemen. Door wendingen van het lot, onwetendheid en menselijke fouten belanden ze midden in de jungle. Daar treffen ze een stam die wacht op de terugkeer van hun leider met zijn mythische boek van wijsheid, dat de stam moet behoeden voor de vernietigende kracht van het Myanmar-regime."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 034546401X, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:33 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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."--Anonymous ; twelve American tourists join an art expedition that begins in the Himalayan foothills of China--dubbed the true Shangri-La--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. Drawing from the current political reality in Burma and woven with pure confabulation, Amy Tan's picaresque novel poses the question: How can we discern what is real and what is fiction, in everything we see? How do we know what to believe?… (more)

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