Excerpt from Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Saving Fish From Drowning

by Amy Tan

Saving Fish From Drowning
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2005, 480 pages
    Sep 2006, 512 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

"Ssss!" Sweet Ma countered with irritation. "That was said to guests who are foreigners. They expect inflated talk. They have no shame, no propriety, no standards of excellence. Besides, any schoolgirl can play that easy song, even you, if you practiced a little harder." And then she poked the side of my head for good effect.

Sweet Ma said that my father did not need to inflate her worth, because they had a complete understanding. "Superfluous words are not necessary when the marriage is balanced, in perfect harmony," she told me. "And that is because our union was fated to be."

At the time, it did not occur to me to question what she said, and my brothers had no opinions on love, or if they did, they would not share them with me. I was thus left to assume that a good marriage was one in which the husband respected the wife's privacy. He did not intrude in her life, visit her rooms, or bother her with questions. There was no need to speak to each other, since they were of the same mind.

But one day my uncle and his family came for a visit several months long. My cousin Yuhang and I kept each other company morning to night. We were like sisters, although we saw each other only once a year. On that particular visit, she told me that she had overheard her parents and their friends gossiping—which, at the time, was the only way anyone learned the truth. The gossip had to do with the union between Sweet Ma and my father. It had been agreed to before their births. In 1909, two comrades from different life circumstances vowed that if the revolution to end the Ching dynasty succeeded and they were still alive to see it, their families should be united by marriage. Well, the Ching was overthrown in 1911, and the comrade with a son had a reputation so high it was said to have reached the heavens. That would be my father's family. The other had a daughter, and his household clung to earth like the rotted roots of a tree about to tilt over with the next small gust. That would be Sweet Ma's household. When the poor comrade with the daughter ran into the rich one with the son, he mentioned their earlier vow, incompatible in status though their lives were. It was widely known, the servants said, that my grandfather was a man of high morals for forcing his eldest son to marry a girl so plain, so lacking in any charms that would compensate for her embarrassingly meager dowry. No wonder the son took on a concubine as soon as he could.

Of course, Sweet Ma reported things differently: "Your mother," she said, "was the daughter of a concubine to a family of only middle status. The concubine had given birth to ten healthy babies, all boys except one. That one girl, while weedy in looks at age sixteen, held promise for being as baby-prolific as her mother. I suggested her to your father, and he said I was wife enough. But I insisted that a stallion must have mares, and mares produce broods, so he mustn't be a mule."

According to Sweet Ma, the relationship my father had with my mother was "very polite, as one should be toward strangers." In fact, my father was much too kind, and my mother learned to take advantage of this. The way Sweet Ma described it: "She was a schemer. She'd put on her rose-colored dress, twirl her favorite flower hairpin, and with eyes dishonestly lowered, she would raise that simpering smile of hers toward your father. Oh, I knew what she was up to. She was always begging money to pay off the gambling debts of her nine brothers. I learned too late that her entire family was a nest of snake spawn. Don't you grow up to be like them, or I'll let the rats in to chew you up at night."

According to Sweet Ma, my mother proved true to her breeding and excelled at becoming pregnant every year. "She gave birth to your eldest brother," Sweet Ma said, counting on her fingers. "Then there was your second brother. After that, three blue babies, drowned in the womb, which was a shame but not so tragic, since they were girls."

From Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan. Copyright Amy Tan 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Putnam Publishing. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
  • Book Jacket: The Mothers
    The Mothers
    by Brit Bennett
    Every now and then the publishing industry gushes about a young author destined to become the next ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Cruel Beautiful World
    by Caroline Leavitt

    A fast moving page-turner about the naiveté of youth and the malignity of power.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Comet Seekers
    by Helen Sedgwick

    A magical, intoxicating debut novel, both intimate and epic.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    News of the World
    by Paulette Jiles

    Exquisitely rendered and morally complex--a brilliant work of historical fiction.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.