"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." Amy Tan's novel of 11 Americans stranded in Burma possesses the resonance of the fable of the Burmese fisherman. Another compelling fiction by the author of The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter's Daughter.
When Amy Tan walks into a bookstore and reads from her work, the audience is enthralled by her very presence. But an audio recording is an art form and a performance, not an author appearance. Some authors excel as performers-for example, Simon Brett performs his Murder in the Museum with aplomb -but Tan is not gifted with an actor's range. Alone in a studio, Tan does not do justice to her own work. Words melt when Tan drops her voice at the end of sentences-and even in the middle. It sounds as if she is rocking back and forth in front of the microphone, or perhaps looking down and away from the mike to study the text. She is also unable to produce different voices for her characters. The narrator who finds Bibi Chen's writings (via a psychic) sounds exactly like Bibi herself. The comments of Bibi's ghost on the ill-fated trip of several of her friends in China and Myanmar are clearly meant to be humorous, but this, too, doesn't come across in Bibi's voice. As a writer, Tan has a well-deserved following. Hopefully, she will leave future recordings to someone who can give her novels the breadth they deserve. Simultaneous release with the Putnam hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 29). (Dec.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
With each successive novel, Tan gets further away from the autobiographical element of her early work. Unfortunately, the characters with whom she replaces friends and ancestors end up shallow and unbelievable. That's especially true in this exasperating saga, where 12 fictional American tourists missing in Burma spar, bond, and have exhibitionist love affairs with all the delicacy of characters in a soap opera. The first-person narration, by the ghost of a Chinese American socialite who planned to lead this art and culture expedition, adds to the listener's frustration, as does the ghost's constant reference to "my friends." While Tan's seriocomic look at American tourists interacting with primitive culture rings true and has one laughing out loud at times, the same effect could have been achieved in a much tighter novel. Even elements that might have heightened awareness and suspense end up suffocated by the idiosyncrasies of characters we'd just as soon forget. Everything has to be neatly ordered, including nearly an hour of tying things up, telling what every character goes on to do with his or her life. The most valuable element here is that the audiobook is read by the author, although poorly mastered discs, with the volume rising and falling, make it difficult to listen on a long car trip.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-Fish is based on the real-life disappearance of 12 American tourists in Myanmar. The narrator is Bibi Chen, dealer in Chinese antiquities, who had arranged an art-oriented tour for her friends. When she dies under mysterious circumstances, the others decide to proceed, saying that Bibi will join them "in spirit"-an invitation she accepts. Mostly well-meaning, but ignorant and naive, the group lands in one hilarious situation after another due to cultural misunderstandings. On a lake outing, they are kidnapped and taken to a hidden village where a rebel tribe waits for the Younger White Brother, who will make them invisible and bullet-proof and enable them to recover their land. They believe that they've found him in 15-year-old Rupert, an amateur magician. The tour group consists of 10 adults and 2 adolescents, some pillars of the community and some decidedly not, but all rich, intelligent, and spoiled. Bibi, feisty and opinionated, uncovers their fears, desires, and motives, and the shades of truth in their words. As the novel progresses, they become more human and less stereotypical, changing as a result of their experiences. Although Tan also satirizes the tourist industry, American Buddhism, and reality TV, her focus is on the American belief that everyone everywhere plays by the same rules. An extremely funny novel with serious undercurrents.-Sandy Freund, Richard Byrd Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Tan's ambitious fifth novel is a ghost's story (though not a ghost story), about an American tourist party's ordeal in the Southeast Asian jungles of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Its narrator is Bibi Chen (whose relation to the story's complex provenance is discussed in a brief prefatory note): a 60-ish California art collector/dealer and sometime travel guide, whose unexplained violent death limits her to joining the members of an American art tour "in spirit" only. She's a major presence, however, among such varied traveling companions as Chinese-American matron Marlena Chu and her preadolescent daughter Esme; biologist Roxanne Scarangello and her younger husband Dwight Massey (a behavioral psychologist); a florist who produces specially bred tropical plants and his teenaged son, an ardently liberal rich girl and her sexy lover, a gay designer pressed into service as de facto tour master, and several others-the most interesting of whom is TV celebrity dog-trainer Harry Bailley (who has eyes for Marlena, and whose name slyly alludes to that earlier portrayal of motley travelers who discover one another's unbuttoned humanity: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales). The strength here is Tan's clever plot, which takes off when 11 of the dozen tourists (sans Harry, who's ill) enter the jungle, cross a rope bridge that subsequently collapses and find themselves stranded among a "renegade ethnic tribe" who mistake 15-year-old Rupert Moffett for a "god" capable of rendering them invisible to Myanmar's brutal military government. Their disappearance becomes an international cause celebre, cultural misunderstandings entangle and multiply, and some fancy narrative footwork brings the tale to a richly ironicconclusion. Alas, Tan (The Bonesetter's Daughter, 2001, etc.) offers much more-ongoing discursive commentary from Bibi's post-mortem perspective, and scads of historical and ethnographic detail about Burma's storied past and Myanmar's savage present. The author's research ultimately smothers her story and characters. A pity, because this vividly imagined tale might very well have been her best yet.