Saturday, June 6, 2009

Saving Fish From Drowning, Amy Tan

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

Thus starts Amy Tan's novel, Saving Fish From Drowning. Narrated by Bibi Chen (via a medium), who has recently been found dead, of mysterious causes, the story follows a tour group of her friends from the Himalayan mountains to the jungle of Burma. It is a trip she had intended to lead, sharing with her friends her vast knowledge of Chinese and Burmese history, culture and art.

The group decides to go on without her (primarily because they'd lose their deposits if they didn't), and fate twists and turns in all manner of barely believable ways to lead them to a quiet lake in Burma, on which they disappear, taken hostage by a paranoid, but kind-hearted and actually pretty funny, splinter group, hiding from the Burmese officials, the SLORC. Tan creates characters as she always does---sympathetic but so very flawed, and it is impossible to dislike any of them, even as they are grating on each other's (and your) nerves.

Most impressive is that Amy Tan weaves the theme of the introductory quote, the best of intentions leading to the worst of outcomes, into so many levels of her story, that even days after having finished it, I am finding myself saying, "ooooooh. wow."

It wasn't my favorite Tan book; that distinction, I think, will always go to The Joy Luck Club. Part of my the drawback of this book was the unfortunate timing of reading it while I was sick with a cold; so between cold medicine and general ickiness, I am fuzzy on a lot of the details (and some major events) in the book. But it was good and I'm glad I read it, but I'm sure I would have gotten more out of it had I read it when I wasn't hacking up a lung or nodding off between every paragraph.

I'm taking a little bit of a break from substantive reading---I'm going to indulge my Chick Lit craving for the next few weeks or a month, starting with Jennifer Weiner's Certain Girls.

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