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
Twelve American tourists join an art expedition that begins in the Himalayan foothills of China - dubbed the true Shangri-La - and heads south into the jungles of Burma. But after the mysterious death of their tour leader, the carefully laid plans fall apart, and disharmony breaks out among the pleasure-seekers as they come to discover that the Burma Road is paved with less-than-honorable intentions, questionable food, and tribal curses.
And then, on Christmas morning, eleven of the travelers boat across a misty lake for a sunrise cruise - and disappear.
Drawing from the current political reality in Burma and woven with pure confabulation, Amy Tan's picaresque novel poses the question: How can we discern what is real and what is fiction, in everything we see? How do we know what to believe? Saving Fish from Drowning finds sly truth in the absurd: a reality TV show called Darwin's Fittest, a repressive regime known as SLORC, two cheroot-smoking twin children hailed as divinities, and a ragtag tribe hiding in the jungle - where thesprites of disaster known as Nats lurk, as do the specters of the fabled Younger White Brother and a British illusionist who was not who he was worshipped to be.
With her signature "idiosyncratic, sympathetic characters, haunting images, historical complexity, significant contemporary themes, and suspenseful mystery" (Los Angeles Times), Amy Tan spins a provocative and mesmerizing tale about the mind and the heart of the individual, the actions we choose, the moral questions we might ask ourselves, and above all, the deeply personal answers we seek when happy endings are seemingly impossible.
Starred Review. Tan (The Bonesetter's Daughter) delivers another highly entertaining novel, this one narrated from beyond the grave. San Francisco socialite and art-world doyenne Bibi Chen has planned the vacation of a lifetime along the notorious Burma Road for 12 of her dearest friends. Violently murdered days before takeoff, she's reduced to watching her friends bumble through their travels from the remove of the spirit world. Making the best of it, the 11 friends who aren't hung over depart their Myanmar resort on Christmas morning to boat across a misty lake--and vanish. The tourists find themselves trapped in jungle-covered mountains, held by a refugee tribe that believes Rupert, the group's surly teenager, is the reincarnation of their god Younger White Brother, come to save them from the unstable, militaristic Myanmar government. Tan's travelers, who range from a neurotic hypochondriac to the debonair, self-involved host of a show called The Fido Files, fight and flirt among themselves. While ensemble casting precludes the intimacy that characterizes Tan's mother-daughter stories, the book branches out with a broad plot and dynamic digressions. It's based on a true story, and Tan seems to be having fun with it, indulging in the wry, witty voice of Bibi while still exploring her signature questions of fate, connection, identity and family. (Oct.)
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October 17, 2005
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Excerpt from Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan
1 A Brief History of My Shortened Life It was not my fault. If only the group had followed my original itinerary without changing it hither, thither, and yon, this debacle would never have happened. But such was not the case, and there you have it, I regret to say.?Following the Buddha?s Footsteps? is what I named the expedition. It was to have begun in the southwestern corner of China, in Yunnan Province, with vistas of the Himalayas and perpetual spring flowers, and then to have continued south on the famed Burma Road. This would allow us to trace the marvelous influence of various religious cultures on Buddhist art over a thousand years and a thousand miles?a fabulous journey into the past. As if that were not enough appeal, I would be both tour leader and personal docent, making the expedition a truly value-added opportunity. But in the wee hours of December 2nd, and just fourteen days before we were to leave on our expedition, a hideous thing happened...I died. There. I?ve finally said it, as unbelievable as it sounds. I can still see the tragic headline: ?Socialite Butchered in Cult Slaying.? The article was quite long: two columns on the left-hand side of the front page, with a color photo of me covered with an antique textile, an exquisite one utterly ruined for future sale. The report was a terrible thing to read: ?The body of Bibi Chen, 63, retail maven, socialite, and board member of the Asian Art Museum, was found yesterday in the display window of her Union Square store, The Immortals, famed for its chinoiserie....? That odious word??chinoiserie??so belittling in a precious way. The article continued with a rather nebulous description of the weapon: a small, rakelike object that had severed my throat, and a rope tightened around my neck, suggesting that someone had tried to strangle me after stabbing had failed. The door had been forced open, and bloody footprints of size-twelve men?s shoes led from the platform where I had died, then out the door, and down the street. Next to my body lay jewelry and broken figurines. According to one source, there was a paper with writing from a Satanic cult bragging that it had struck again. Two days later, there was another story, only shorter and with no photo: ?New Clues in Arts Patron?s Death.? A police spokesman explained that they had never called it a cult slaying. The detective had noted ?a paper,? meaning a newspaper tabloid, and when asked by reporters what the paper said, he gave the tabloid?s headline: ?Satanic Cult Vows to Kill Again.? The spokesman went on to say that more evidence had been found and an arrest had been made. A police dog tracked the trail left by my blood. What is invisible to the human eye, the spokesman said, still contains ?scent molecules that highly trained dogs can detect for as long as a week or so after the event.? (My death was an event?) The trail took them to an alleyway, where they found bloodstained slacks stuffed in a shopping cart filled with trash. A short distance from there, they found a tent fashioned out of blue tarp and cardboard. They arrested the occupant, a homeless man, who was wearing the shoes that had left the telltale imprints. The suspect had no criminal record but a history of psychiatric problems. Case solved. Or maybe not. Right after my friends were lost in Burma, the newspaper changed its mind again: ?Shopkeeper?s Death Ruled Freak Accident.? No reason, no purpose, no one to blame, just ?freak,? this ugly word next to my name forever. And why was I demoted to ?shopkeeper?? The story further noted that DNA analysis of the man?s skin particles and those on both the blood-spattered trousers and the shoes confirmed that the man was no longer a suspect. So who had entered my gallery and left the prints? Wasn?t it an obvious case of crime? Who, exactly, caused this freak accident? Yet there was no mention of a further investigation,