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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 78 (next | show all)
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 |
i had forgotten how much i like amy tan's writing, and i definitely didn't remember her being so funny. still, this takes a serious look at the manipulation of the media and of how well-intentioned people can so easily do more harm than good. (and also how americans so often step on other people's toes, or worse, but that's more incidental.) it's a really interesting question about how to help and what constitutes help, especially when there is such a cultural divide that there is no real understanding between the groups of people. she starts with a quote from camus ("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.") and pretty much takes off running from there, with engaging side plots and a great cast of characters. and i love what she says in the back of my edition in an interview: "...I am interested in intentional meaning. That is the reason for the title, Saving Fish from Drowning. One can argue that one is not killing fish but taking them out of the water to save them from drowning. Within what we say is what we mean, what we don't intend, what we want people to think we mean...and all the chaos that results is the source of a lot of stories."

i really, really like what she's done here, and she's done it in a way that also tells a great story along the way, with humor and some memorable characters. ( )
  elisa.saphier | Dec 6, 2015 |
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 |
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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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