Saturday, 5 August 2006

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

Saving Fish from Drowning
Amy Tan
(Harper Perennial €??)

Synopsis: Bibi Chen, found gruesomely dead at the start of the story, accompanies her tour group in ghost form. Described in Bibi’s waspish commentary, the group wreak havoc through China and Burma, then disappear without trace.

VERY, very funny, a cutting satire on Americans abroad, edgy and completely impossible to stop reading, even at 3am with your eyelids propped up by matchsticks, Saving Fish from Drowning will be passed from sister to sister until the cover falls off from too much loving.

Accompanied by the furious, opinionated ghost of their tour organiser, a bumbling group of middle-class Americans set off on a journey through China and Burma.

Powerless to make her many opinions felt, ghostly Bibi shouts in their ears as they make one cultural boo-boo after another.

It’s all going to end badly, especially when a man with prostate problems mistakes the sacred shrine of the female genitalia for a useful outdoor urinal, and the whole group is cursed, and their children after them.

Our group includes Moff – the hippie entrepreneur who started by growing a screen of bamboo to shelter his marijuana plants from prying official eyes, and ended up making his fortune from decorative bamboos.

Moff’s son, Rupert, is a perfectly ordinary American kid – until seen with the desirous eyes of a beaten-down Burmese tribe who have been waiting for the risen Christ for generations.

The love interest: Harry, the doggy behavioural scientist whose TV programme, The Fido Files, is a worldwide craze with pet owners, and elegant Marlena Chu, Shanghai-born, Sorbonne-educated, from a millionaire family who lost it all in the flight from China and were now just comfortably off in America.

But this is a bedroom farce, with doors opening and closing and the gods and demons ready to bedevil all hopeful lovers.

And when the 11 go missing, both the vicious Burmese regime and the international media see an advertising opportunity. Could Moff have been a heroin dealer? Who’s the political activist stowed away amid the group? Have they gone into hiding with the Karen underground?

Amy Tan, as always, brings the otherworlds into her story. The Nats, or irritable undead spirits that cause everything from car crashes to diarrhoea, are, as a Burmese journalist attests “a big problem here”, and make themselves known by leading everyone into trouble.

It’s always good to see a new Amy Tan, and this is one of her best. Absolutely hilarious.

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