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Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan
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Saving Fish from Drowning (2005)

by Amy Tan

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,566831,481 (3.38)121
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English (81)  German (2)  All languages (83)
Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
A nice story about love, survival, travel, the human condition, and the afterlife. I enjoyed the first third immensely but found the last third a trifle tedious and the final 30 pages endless.

I believe I read Jot Luck Club a zillion years ago. Nice reintroduction to a wonderful story teller. ( )
  Alphawoman | May 8, 2016 |
About a tour group in Burma, narrated by the ghost of the woman who was originally meant to lead the tour. I DNF'd out of this one at just shy of the 300 page mark, my first and hopefully only did-not-complete of the year! This was just...really unsubtle, and seemed to be more about exoticizing Burma and setting up hilarious "ah these clueless tourists" moments than anything worthwhile. The characters were flat and dull, the writing was unsubtle (the pages-long bit where she actually has characters explain the title of the book...yikes). I've heard Amy Tan critiqued for trading on/reinforcing stereotypes in her work before, and now I see why - I definitely won't be picking up another of her books without a glowing recommendation from someone I trust. ( )
  KLmesoftly | Mar 20, 2016 |
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 the market and I sell them for a good price. With the money I recieve I buy more nets so I can save more fishes".


Saving Fish From Drowning," half spoof and half fairy tale, is narrated by Bibi Chen, a San Francisco socialite and art dealer who was supposed to lead a group of high-powered friends on a trip down the Burma Road, starting in Lijiang in China and continuing across the border into Myanmar, appreciating cultural sites and natural beauty along the way. Bibi Chen has died under mysterious circumstances, but the group goes off on the trip anyway, and Bibi goes along as a spirit, invisible to the travelers, only sporadically able to influence what is going on, but very much involved with - and frequently rather annoyed by - her friends and their choices. A quirky narrator, alternately omniscient and helpless, she is enthusiastic, colorful and spirited, but also self-important, snobbish and didactic. Tan uses the contrived plot device of Bibi's status inconsistently. When it suits Tan to give the dead woman special powers - to rearrange dates with a guide by appearing in his dream, for example - she does so. And when it suits her to make the narrator out to be impotent, she does that, too. Nonetheless, Bibi Chen is a compelling creature. She is also the only fully realized character in the book.

The trip is a comedy of errors for the group, all errors that Bibi sees coming but, being dead, cannot prevent. The trouble starts in China when they accidentally desecrate the Stone Bell Temple in Yunnan - by using one of the grottoes as a urinal, among other atrocities - and are cursed by a tribal chief. This leads to much bickering, at the end of which the travelers cut short the Chinese portion of their itinerary and cross into Myanmar. There the book's central incident takes place: Karen tribesmen abduct the group at Inle Lake. The tribesmen have mistaken one of the party for the fabled Younger White Brother for whom they have waited 100 years, and who will lead the Karen people to victory. Most implausibly, the Americans do not realize that they are being held captive and continue for some weeks to believe they came to the Karen village deep in the jungle as part of a standard tourist agenda, and have been detained because the collapse of a bridge over a nearby gorge has destroyed the route back to civilization. The tribe, meanwhile, does not realize that their godhead is just an American teenager
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
I enjoyed this story from beginning to end and I was surprised how funny it was! The characters were completely real (I think everyone has met people exactly like them), there are great descriptions of Burma as well as historical background, important contemporary issues and a mystery thrown in for good measure. The writing is a joy - what a great read!

( )
  SabinaE | Jan 23, 2016 |
Couldn't really decide whether I liked it or not. It was readable, and lighthearted, and I suppose was more or less Amy Tan-ish. Which is either a good or bad thing. ( )
  olduvai | Jan 19, 2016 |
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
For Lou DeMattei, Sandra Dijkstra and Molly Giles for saving me countless times.
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It was not my fault.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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