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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 28 January 2015
Excellent Condition
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on 5 June 2008
I loved that book. I think it is the best Amy Tan novel I have read since the Joy luck club. What is exciting is that it is different from the others.It is the story of a group of American tourists who embark on a trip to South China and Burma. The woman who should have been their tour group leader, died before the trip in very mysterious circumstances and the trip will not go as smoothly as anticipated.She will be with them, as a ghost, to recount their experiences, both comic and tragic (the group disappears one day in Burma- have they been abducted, killed?- and to tell us lots about the places they are visiting.
Part comedy, part thriller, part detective book... it is unputdownable as you want to know what happened to each of them.... Very entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.
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If you are looking for a "typical" Amy Tan novel about a Chinese mother and daughter, please be aware that this book doesn't follow Ms. Tan's marvelous prior novels into that rich story-telling vein. If you like satirical novels, you will wonder why Ms. Tan takes so long to lay waste to her targets.
But if you like novels rich in cultural and psychological irony, you've found a gem. I emphasize that point because irony is something that many readers avoid or don't enjoy very much. I find that there are too few well-written ironic novels, and I treasure all those that I find.
Like most stories about ironies, this one takes on such a broad theme that it can be easy to miss the message: Unintended consequences cause your purest impulses to backfire on you and on those you want to help. Ms. Tan's choice of a title gives a broad clue, in referring to an anonymous tale about a pious man who "saves" the lives of fish from drowning by catching them. When the fish die, he's disappointed but realizing that one must never waste anything, he sells the dead fishes to buy more nets . . . so he can save more fish from drowning.
Like a good symphony composer, Ms. Tan then endows her major characters with story lines that let them each play out that theme in their own variations. To make sure we get the point, each personal story is imbued with ironies that are both richly developed and humorous.
To be sure we understand that there are other forces at work, Ms. Tan sets as her initial narrator a wealthy patron of the arts who has just died . . . but is still lingering around to observe her own funeral . . . and the actions of the tour group she had organized. Although other such "friendly" spirits do not narrate, we can enjoy their visitations to the living throughout the novel.
One of the beauties of the book is that Ms. Tan takes us into the cultural realities of those from many different nations and backgrounds. Those contrasts make it more obvious how much of what we do is the result of our histories, family circumstances and education.
Enjoy a great read!
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on 8 September 2006
This is a great comic drama. Reading it in public was risky - on the Tube I was on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, unable to look up to check whether I'd reached my stop, then cackling out loud like a mad lady.

It's also interesting to explore the idea that tourism is both necessary and detrimental to the countries visited. And the insensibility of the tourists to the fact that the funny foreigners were real people too, with real hopes and fears and beliefs, made me cringe with guilty recognition.

But I'm not sure why there were so many characters - far too many for them to be easily distinguishable. And the framing story of the narrator's death was silly - rich in symbolism, I'm sure, but it seemed unnecessary. And there was at least one loose end not tied up.
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on 11 July 2009
One of Amy Tan's best novels, in my opinion. Very well researched, this is one of those novels which teaches you something about another country at the same time as weaving a story you can't wait to return to each time you put the book down. The journey of a mixed bunch of people which turns into an odyssey is a very funny, interesting and highly enjoyable read which has you laughing out loud at certain times.
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on 15 July 2012
I am a massive fan of Amy Tan which is what made this so disappointing. Having savoured her other titles likes wonderful treats, I really struggled with this book. In fact, I must admit I still haven't finished it. I'm sure I will finish it one day but it just didn't capture or retain my interest as her others titles have done.
Amy Tan is an amazing author who usually perfectly captures the cultural and historical nuances that shape all our lives. She may do so in this book . . .but the 'gimmicky' narrator and the muddled start meant reading became a chore rather than a joy.
I'm an avid reader and I don't set books aside lightly but I'm afraid that having tried to finish this book on three separate occasions, it may join the small list of titles that I didn't complete.
It feels awful to type this about one of Amy Tan's books but Saving Fish from Drowning simply isn't as good as the rest of her titles.
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on 5 April 2008
I have just finished this book and I loved every part of it. It was like going on a journey - one I do not want to end. I experienced every emotion and also laughed out loud in places. I was reminded of Jane Austin and her (I believe) loving wit and laughter at human behaviour.

Yes, there were a lot of characters, but they were all very different and interesting in their own way. I felt that I knew each one.

I have read other Amy Tan books, which I enjoyed but this one is a masterpiece. Very clever, very thought-provoking but also fun. I am now a firm fan.

Don't stop reading this at the end - there is a question and answer section at the back - don't miss it.
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on 22 April 2011
This book is not what I was expecting from Amy Tan, but definitely not worse. This tale of a group of tourists going missing in Burma is written in an ironic style. The tourists are spoilt, self-obsessed, etc, and Tan uses the conceit of being a ghost to point up the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us.The book is also rich in cultural information on China and Burma, which is quite facinating. Don't be put off by it not being typical Amy Tan, read it anyway.
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on 12 December 2012
Now that Burma is opening up to tourism, this is an excellent book to take on your trip (I put it on my Kindle) or to read beforehand. Much of the action takes place in the Inle Lake area, and even though the novel was written ten years ago, it's very easy to recognise the locations and the tourist itineraries the group follow. Politically, the situation has moved on dramatically since Amy Tan wrote the book, but the background of brutal suppression of the Karen minority is something all visitors to Myanmar should be aware of.
It's certainly a much better reading choice than Orwell's 'Burmese Days', which you see on bookstalls all over Burma - I can't imagine why, as it's unpleasant and insulting about the people, customs, food, climate and pretty well everything else in the country.
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on 7 October 2007
This is a compelling and unusual story. The narrator is a dead woman - an unusual device in itself. The story centers around a group of American tourists on a trip to Burma. Burma has been in the news this week and so that made it all the more fascinating. There is a likeable cast of characters - who get into all sorts of scrapes - many of which are quite hilarious. This is a story about how one persons actions can impact upon another, and about a group's shared responsibilty. There are some topical messages here, and a little tounge in cheek satire, wrapped up in an entertaining story. Very different from the only other Amy Tan novel I have read - The Bonesetter's daughter - but very enjoyable.
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