Saving Fish From Drowning

by Amy Tan

This tale is quite a departure from Amy Tan’s well known and well received mother-daughter stories. Inspired by the real-life disappearance of 12 American tourists in Myanmar, the story is narrated by Bibi Chen, a San Francisco socialite and dealer in Chinese antiquities. She has arranged a tour to western China and Myanmar for her rich, art-loving friends. Shortly before departure, she dies under mysterious circumstances, and after some debate, the group decides to proceed with the tour, saying that Bibi will join them in spirit – an invitation she accepts.

Mostly well-meaning, but ignorant and naive, the travelers blunder their way through China and Myanmar, fighting and flirting, resulting in an entertaining travelog. Misfortunes seem to follow them everywhere, and then on the morning of Christmas Day, 11 of them board a boat and disappear into the mist.

While this book is not as memorable as her others, it is a wickedly funny and engaging read. At times Tan touches on heavy matters, such as genocide and government oppression, but she soon skips back to a light-hearted, humorous tone, thus dooming this book to a lesser status compared to her earlier works. The ending, where Bibi finds out the circumstances of her death, is probably the most Amy-Tanish part of the book, making me remember how great her other books were. Nonetheless, I like how the author steps outside her comfort zone to write a different novel, and will look forward to her next title.

Published in: on June 14, 2011 at 12:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal’s Journey from Down Under to All Over

by Geraldine Brooks

When I read the the description on the dust jacket, I know that I want to read this book. It’s the memoir of a woman who decided to travel around the world to look up her childhood pen pals, a journey which takes her to France, the Middle East, and America.

I don’t know if kids nowadays have pen pals. Even if they do, with Internet, digital photos, web cam and all that, the experience will likely be very different from my generation. The weeks, if not months, of eager waiting for a reply letter. The exotic stamps on the envelop. Holding the occasional pictures and postcards in hand, trying to imagine life in an unknown world an ocean away. What fond memories.

It’s only when I register this book on BookCrossing that I notice the author’s name. Geraldine Brooks? There can’t be more than one famous Geraldine Brooks!! Turn out this book is written by one of my favorite authors!! What pleasant surprise!

While I have expected the book to be a travelogue, turns out it’s more a memoir, about growing up in Australia, and her pen pals growing up in their own countries, as well as a tribute to her father. Before Geraldine Brooks the adult became a Foreign Correspondent at Wall Street Journal, Geraldine Brooks the little girl living at the edge of world had carried on plenty of foreign correspondence. Politics seem to loom large, partly because she and her friends grew up turbulent 60s and 70s, partly because her father has cultivated such interest in her, and most definitely because of Brooks’ career.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy that book. Our childhood pen pals is our first gateway to the outside world: the colorful stamps, unfamiliar landscape on postcards, street names that couldn’t be pronounced… it beckons us to explore the world beyond our home. In some way, the pen pals are our first glimpse to what is out there to explore, the first seeds of our wanderlust. I am, of course, talking of a time when the world was not as small and flat as it is today.

Reading the book makes me nostalgic of my own foreign correspondence. It brought up forgotten memories of myself scrolling Pen Pals Wanted ads in magazines, debating whom to write to with the seriousness of finding a life partner. The book makes me curious what happen to my friends since we stop corresponding, around the time we enter high school. Will they embrace me like some of Brooks’ penpals do, or stare at me with suspicion should I one day should up at their doorsteps?

Published in: on June 3, 2011 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment