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Saving Fish from Drowning    by Amy Tan order for
Saving Fish from Drowning
by Amy Tan
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Prepare your passports and pack your imaginations for a trip to a far away land: Amy Tan has released another novel. This time, the location is Burma, now known as Myanmar. Tan takes us to a world where modernity has not yet caught up with a primitive way of life. The story is unusual in format because it is narrated by the ghost of Bibi Chen. Chen, based on a real person, was a prominent Chinese American art collector living in San Francisco, who died under mysterious circumstances.

Prior to her death, Chen had arranged to lead a group of twelve friends on a tour of Burma, a country where travel is strictly controlled by the military government. The group decides to honor Bibi by going on the trip as planned. Their mistake, however, is to deviate from her itinerary. By several twists of fate, eleven of the twelve travelers end up being diverted from their path by Karen tribal natives disguised as tour operators. After witnessing his magic tricks, one of the natives comes to believe that Rupert, the fifteen year old son of one of the tourists, is fated to be their savior from a country that has persecuted and tortured them and their families. As usual, Tan invents multi-dimensional characters with distinct personalities. We meet Heidi, a hypochondriac who is ultra-prepared for any disaster, bringing along remedies for every possible ailment. Harry is a British-American TV star who is attempting to seduce fellow traveler Marlena. Tan also skillfully dissects the relationships of several couples present on the journey.

This story is somewhat of a departure for the author as she often focuses on mother-daughter relationships. In fact, the novel is highly political in nature as Tan explores ethnic cleansing in a third world country. Ultimately, though, Saving Fish from Drowning is about the gift of life, the human instinct for survival, and humanity and compassion for others. Tan, a consistently excellent storyteller, delivers a fascinating storyline. This book is highly recommended.

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