Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

Fiction — print. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005.  474 pgs. Purchased.

Each time I mention Tan’s novel here on my blog people are quick to tell me they consider this to be the poorer of her five novels. The other two novels of hers I have read have dealt with the relationship between Chinese-American mothers and daughters. I was glad to see her step away from this theme even though I would agree that it is the lesser of her novels.

Bibi Chen, San Francisco socialite and art vendor to the stars, planned to lead a trip for 12 friends to China and Burma (also known as Myanmar). Unfortunately, Bibi tragically dies before the tour begins. Her group of friends and acquaintances decide to go after all, and Bibi accompanies them to provide narration for the reader.

Once in Myanmar, they are noticed by a group of Karen tribesmen who decide that fifteen-year-old Rupert 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 (minus one male member of the group) is kidnapped and taken deep into the jungle. The disappearance of the “American Eleven” sets off a diplomatic firestorm and a mystery of what happened to Bibi’s missing friends.

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. Bibi must think that she is saving her friends from drowning.

My reading of this book was colored by my attempt to read Tan’s novel during the read-a-thon earlier this month. I found it to be too slow of a novel and mystery not nearly as engaging enough to keep my attention during the read-a-thon. The set up for the mystery in this book was quite well-written, but I eventually shelved the book and decided to come back to it at a later date.

There are many characters I never got to know and some of them I really did not care to learn anymore about because of the way they were written and/or presented. The one character I really enjoyed getting to know was Bibi. There was just something about her that drew me to her, a major plus considering she is also the narrator.

But the focus of this book really is Burma/Myanmar and its isolation from the world. The country is introduced from the tourist’s point of view, and the Bibi reminds the reader continuously that these people do not really appreciate the intricacies of the country. Ultimately, not Tan’s best novel but not the worst book I have ever read.

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One thought on “Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

  1. I’ve bought every Tan novel on publication and I anxiously awaited the arrival of this when it came out a few years ago. Sadly I was disappointed. It wasn’t bad, just not the wonderful writing I’d come to expect with Tan. I think she tried to move away from the mother/daughter thing and was brave to tackle a novel about Burma/Myanmar but it didn’t quite come off. I believe there will be a new Tan novel The Valley of Amazement which returns to the mother/daugher theme. Those are beautiful Tan editions you have. I’m tempted to replace my battered old copies.

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