by Nick Upton

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Book Review: Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan

A novel based upon a story received from the spirits by a medium is an unusual book indeed, but Amy Tan has done an excellent job in turning this into an enjoyable, amusing and thought-provoking story. In Saving Fish From Drowning the reader follows a group of 12 American tourists on their cultural tour of China and Burma, a tour which is doomed to disaster before it has even begun.

The story is narrated by the group's recently deceased tour organiser, who watches over the tour as a spirit and along the way makes amusing observations, gossipy asides and irritated remarks about her friends' constant ability to say the wrong thing, make impetuous decisions and generally approach the foreign cultures they encounter with an ignorant and patronising attitude.

What makes this book so enjoyable is that there are so many aspects to it - the author herself describes her work as a mixture of genres: murder mystery, romance, picaresque, comic novel, magical realsim, fable, myth, police detective and political farce. It is perhaps the ironic, comic and farcical aspects of the book that I most enjoyed and the way that the media and the Burmmese government react to and manipulate events was particularly amusing.

Some may say that this book takes a simplistic and ill-informed view of Asian cultures, but that would be missing the point that this was the effect the author was attempting to create. However, one criticism that I would make is that there are too many characters, some of which were quite indistinguishable from each other - on the other hand some of the characters were very enjoyable and with a little more time devoted to them, they could have been even more memorable.


This is an enjoyable, amusing and engrossing story which satirises tourism, cultural expectations and the regime in Burma - an easy and frivolous read. Those expecting deep insight into the situation in Burma will be highly disappointed but those looking for a well-written novel with an interesting story will be delighted.

Score: 8.5/10

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