Thursday, May 1, 2014


There is a lot to be said about a novel that doesn’t follow the typical style of an author.  Saving Fish From Drowning is that novel for Amy Tan.  It is very different in that it does not have the mother daughter conflict most of her novels focus on.  Saving Fish From Drowning begins with the death of our narrator: Bibi Chan, then the rest of the story is told through her eyes as she watches over her friends during to trip through Burma. 

Along the way they deviate from the plans that Bibi painstakingly created and got themselves into a huge mess of trouble which includes eating food that disagreed with their bodies to disappearing while out sight-seeing.  While the group is out exploring the land and buying trinkets to take home, a young member of the group shows off some magic tricks to the natives.  This in turn makes them believe he is what they believe is the “Younger White Brother,” who they believe will save them from repression. This story is as much about the tribe who kidnaps the travelers as it is about the travelers.  The novel engulfs numerous other backstories on several of the character no matter how minor they may seem.

There are still some aspects of the mystery of magic, religion and the aspects of human nature we see analyzed in Tan other novels, but Saving Fish From Drowning takes on a more political view of things.  She discusses a lot of the aspects of Burmese and Chinese politics through the things the travelers need to deal with when touring the countries.  While the imagery is beautifully written and described with vivacity the jargon of politics took away from the awe feeling within the novel.  While the novel doesn’t focus mainly on mother/daughter relationships like many of her novels, there is still some aspects of that theme through the characters of Esme and Marlena.  So many Tan wasn’t able to break away from her normal themes after all.

The characters all have characteristics that we all can relate too.  Bennie is the one who wants to please everyone even if it means sacrificing himself (this is who I related to the most), Mott is the show off while his son Rupert is the adventurous young man (the one seen as the “Younger White Brother”).  Marlena is a single mother who unknowingly missed her daughter growing up trying to provide for her while her daughter Esme is both annoyed with her mom, but loves her more than anything.  Harry is the television playboy who simply wants to be loved while Heidi is the cautious one who thinks ahead and is weary of everything around her.  Wendy is the clingy girlfriend who tries to use every opportunity she can to be naughty with Wyatt her boyfriend who simply doesn’t want to hurt her.  Roxanna is the documentarian who wants to document everything happening around them while her husband Dwight thinks he knows everything about everything.  Last is Vera who simply wants to reconnect with her past.  We all know people with these same characteristics so it is easy to think of someone while reading about these characters.

The novel is a great read with a lot of rewarding elements, but it is also hard to get through.  I personally had to push myself to get through the political talk and see the story as it should be. The one quality of the novel I enjoyed was Bibi Chan.  She was a unique character who tries to aid her friends but fails because she cannot communicate with them.  She emits strong emotions and you feel them yourself as if you are Bibi herself watching your friends.  I do suggest reading this novel if you are a fan of Amy Tan.  If you have not read any of her work before I would suggest another novel like maybe The Kitchen God’s Wife or The Joy Luck Club.

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Pros: The book does deviate from Tan's typical theme.
Cons: There is a lot of political talk which seems to take away from the true story she is trying to tell.

Final Review: While Tan does stray from her normal themes she does stick with her unique style.   She include great imagery of the surroundings and emotions of her characters.

Author: Amy Tan
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons

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