By now you know I have penchant for books about faraway places, especially when they are character-driven in their plot. And I love the way Amy Tan chops her ideas into tiny, stark phrases that say so much.
The title is a case in point. A fisherman saves fish from drowning, he tells a group of tourists just before he totally screws them over.
Tan has a way with dark comedy. This is not a friendly read. It’s got sharp edges, not to mention a dead protagonist. When you realize the book is about an art dealer who dies mysteriously just before leading a tour of eleven friends down the famous Burma Road, you think you’re getting a literary thriller. What you’re really getting is one long, wild, dangerous culture clash, as only Tan can write it.
Darker than The Joy Luck Club, just about as dark as The Kitchen God’s Wife, Fish has some amazing word pictures in it as well. You can smell the steam from the river, see the trees, and feel the terror and wonder and confusion.
And you get gems like this: describing the rescue of the protagonist’s hapless friends, Tan writes, “Most of [them] could have walked down, but after the twins said they wanted to be airlifted by the giant sling, everyone else did, too. Why not? It made for great TV visuals, all day long.”
She just has that acid-dipped honey voice running through the whole thing. It’s a great read, but be prepared to be ashamed of yourself for laughing.