The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Saving Fish from Drowning, by Amy Tan

I saw this book in Borders as a remaindered hard back. I remember when Amy Tan’s books flew off the shelves and occupied the best seller lists for months on end, but she seemed to lose her touch for a while, she shifted to children’s books, she became sick, and she sort of drifted off, or so it appeared. I bought the book for $5.99 and invested no expectations in it. And now that I’ve read it, I wonder why it didn’t sell.

Let me be clear: I can be a fan of a writer and still pick them to pieces while loving their work. I can certainly do that with Amy Tan. For example, she always has more characters than she needs and should consolidate some of them but doesn’t. She works at one level of realism for a while, shifts away from it, and shifts back, which is disconcerting to a reader. And for this book in particular, she seems to think people are pretty stupid. I have days when I’d agree with her, but not enough days in a row to write an entire book on that assumption. However… I loved this book.

The story is that of 13 tourists (should have been 9 at most, eliminating Wendy and Wyatt at the very least) organized for a private tour of China and Burma. (The jury is out on whether the sanctions against Burma have any impact, and we won’t go into that here.) But when Bibi Chen, the tour organizer and beyond-the-grave narrator, mysteriously dies, they decide to continue. Bibi had everything planned exquisitely, and once the group breaks from her plan, they immediately encounter trouble. Bits of trouble occur here and there, but then the big trouble happens: 11 of the 12 remaining tourists mysteriously disappear after an encounter with some boatmen from the Karen tribe.

What follows is sad and, at times, heartbreaking. But Tan can be very funny. For example, the 1 tourist who is left behind, Harry Bailley, is a Dog Whisperer sort with his own TV show. And he behaves and thinks like a dog. He’s easily led, he wants to please, he keep encountering women who want to “train” him, and he’s perpetually optimistic. This can be quite amusing – and exasperating. But while there are bits of humor, Tan makes it clear that the Burmest junta is brutal and destructive.

Anyway, I recommend this book. It’s not Tan’s best, but it certainly had no business on the remainder shelves.

As for animals, there are a few animal characters, the most prominent being Pup-pup, an abnormally quiet Shih Tzu puppy. Pup-pup ends up coming out of the experience in a way that should not upset anyone, so there’s no need to spend the book worrying that he’ll be eaten or carried off by a wild animal or anything like that. Harry inherits Bibi’s Yorkie, Poochini, who ends up well. Other dogs include a couple of “sniffer” dogs brought in to search for the lost tourists. Alongside, there is a water buffalo that’s worked too hard, a pig slaughtered for dinner, a kitten lost in one character’s back story, and the fish of the title. So I am going to declare this book SAFE for animal lovers. If you see it at the bookstore, remaindered or not, pick it up!

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May 13, 2009 - Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, dogs, pets | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I loved that book! I particularly like the way Bibi’s ego colors the narration.

    Comment by Terri | May 13, 2009 | Reply


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