Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Saving Fish From Drowning

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Saving Fish From Drowning

by Amy Tan

Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2005, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2006, 512 pages

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In the novel's foreword Amy Tan informs readers that Saving Fish... is loosely based on a  true story, and even reproduces an article from the San Francisco Chronicle.  However, confusingly, the San Francisco Chronicle's own review seems to imply that no such story was ever printed. 

She provides an explanation of her book's title as follows: A pious man explained to his followers: "It is evil to take lives and noble to save them. Each day I pledge to save a hundred lives. I drop my net in the lake and scoop out a hundred fishes. I place the fishes on the bank, where they flop and twirl. 'Don't be scared,' I tell those fishes. 'I am saving you from drowning.' Soon enough, the fishes grow calm and lie still. Yet, sad to say, I am always too late. The fishes expire. And because it is evil to waste anything, I take those dead fishes to market and I sell them for a good price. With the money I receive, I buy more nets so I can save more fishes."

When asked what she hopes readers will take away from this book, she replies, "That they had a good time reading it, meaning they enjoyed it and thought it was worth the money they paid and the time they spent with it. And that they left it wanting to ask the same questions in their own lives about truth and intentions, about how truth affects intentions, and about where they find truth, individual and universal, and why it's important to have both."

Did you know? The Inthas, who live in the Lake Inle area of the Burmese Shan State, are famous for their rowing technique - they stand up holding a long paddle in one hand, with one leg wrapped around the paddle lower down.  This leaves them free to use their other hand to manage their conical fishing nets. 

Interesting Links:
Pictures of the Lake Inle area including  leg-rowers.
Finding George Orwell in Burma - a nonfiction account of modern-day Burma.
An in-depth interview with Amy Tan.

This article was originally published in November 2005, and has been updated for the September 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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