I could see the details of the world they passed through. Now that I had the gifts of the Buddha, I could flow unimpeded by safety concerns, and the hidden forms of life revealed themselves: a harmless snake with iridescent stripes, myriad fungi, flowering parasites of colors and shapes that suggested sexual turgidity – a wealth of waxy flora and moist fauna endemic to this hidden spot of the earth, as yet undiscovered by humans, or at least those who assigned taxonomic labels. I realized then that we miss so much of life while we are part of it. We fail to see ninety-nine percent of the glories of nature, for to do so would require vision that is simultaneously telescopic and microscopic.
Bibi Chen is a well renowned and somewhat snobby art patron in San Francisco, circa 2000. She is to serve as a tour guide for a group of her friends, taking them to China and Myanmar, showing them the delicate beauties and wonderful treasures that a large tour would miss. After her sudden death, her friends decide to go on the tour anyway, and make the best of a bad situation.
Bibi watches from the afterlife, with the ‘gifts of the Buddha’, as her friends try to make due, hiring incompetent tour guides, eating dangerous foods, and defiling holy relics. They veer off of her planned course over and over again, eventually finding themselves in Burma, where they mysteriously disappear.
I wanted to love Saving Fish From Drowning. I loved The Joy Luck Club, with its wonderful, terrible relationships between mothers and daughters, and the lasting bonds of friendship. But while the characters in The Joy Luck Club felt real to me, their joys were my joys, my heart broke when their hearts broke, the characters in Saving Fish From Drowning felt more like caricatures. They all seemed a bit too stereotypical and forced, and I couldn’t bring myself to care about them. As a matter of fact, I had to force myself to finish the book, as I had been struggling with it for awhile. The situations were somewhat ridiculous, and some of them made no sense. She worked for almost 500 pages on this book, and yet some decisions seemed haphazard and thrown in for lack of a better solution. I will say that I enjoyed portions of the book, and that some of Bibi’s observations were lovely to read. The strongest portions of the book, for me, were those when Bibi is remembering her childhood in China, and those leading up to the rescue of the missing travelers. Of course, the rescue itself is one of those pieces that felt thrown together.
With some reworking, this might make a fun movie. I can’t say I loved the book, however.