By Amy Tan
One of the best books I've ever read is The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan, although I read that one in my much-younger years. I saw this, more recent, novel by Tan and decided to pick it up. With such an intriguing name, Saving Fish from Drowning would surely be a book as good as Senses, right? In the end, I decided that my primary assessment was incorrect.
To summarize, Saving Fish from Drowning is about a large group of friends who travel together to Burma (Myanmar). They travel without an important member, Bibi Chen, who planned the trip in the first place but mysteriously died prior to departure (although she is there in spirit as she is the narrator of the story).
The book follows the travelers on some interesting (and some not-so-interesting) adventures, until they are eventually kidnapped by an oppressed tribe who refer to themselves as “The Lord’s Army”.
It was at about this point in the book that I realized that this was not merely an “escape from real life” story book. No. It was, instead, a political commentary on an oppressive regime, which (I’m assuming) is likely still a problem in that particular region. I hate stuff like that. From that point on, I just sort of went through the motions of finishing the book. I’m sorry, but I typically read to escape; not to find out more about the horrible things that horrible governments and horrible religions do to people in this world. If I wanted to read that kind of stuff I would stick with non-fiction. Or watch Fox News.
It’s not that I want to stick my head in the sand and never know anything that’s going on; it’s just a survival mechanism, I suppose. To survive, I have to think about the good things in life instead of suffocating in the bad.
Anyway, so I did eventually finish the book and realize the intent of the book title. The “moral of the story”, if you will, seemed to be that even though us “westerners” go into these types of areas to try to help the oppressed people, it just ends up making things worse for them (at least that seemed to be the author’s take on things—that we think we are “saving” them, but instead we are “drowning” them).
I disagreed with the premise and only found some of the story interesting. I also thought the whole “mysterious death of Bibi Chen” thing (that really didn’t have anything to do with anything other than to create a narrator for the story), was a weird distraction. Not one I would recommend.