fishWho wrote this book and when?
Amy Tan published this in 2005.

Has there been a film version?
No.

Who are the important characters?
Bibi Chen – the narrator, a woman who died violently and mysteriously and is now following her friends on a tour through China and Burma she planned on leading herself
Harry Bailly – a British man who is known for being a renowned dog trainer, part of the tour group
Marlena – an asian woman with a teenage daughter, part of the tour group
Esme – Marlena’s daughter
Moff – Harry’s best friend, part of the group
Rupert – Moff’s son, the source of a lot of the trouble on the trip
Bennie – the man who takes over leading the tour after Bibi dies, not a strong leader
Heidi – a hypochondriac woman who is afraid of nearly everything, part of the group
Heinrich – a man with a German accent who is a little shady and runs the hotel the group stays in last

What’s it about?
Bibi Chen is a shopkeeper who is mysteriously killed a short time before she is to lead a group of 11 friends on a tour of China and Burma. Her spirit remains behind and watches her funeral and then follows her friends on their fateful trip. The group completely discards her itinerary and many things go awry – including insulting several religious groups and narrowly being captured by the military. The tour culminates in 11 of the 12 tourists disappearing on Christmas morning with no one being able to find them or any trace of them. Bibi is able to follow both her friends in their troubles and those who are searching for them, as well as the tour’s captors.

Why is this book a classic/bestseller?
I’m not sure it’s either. It’s written by Amy Tan, who is a well-known bestselling author, but this is her latest and probably least recognized book.

Do I recommend you read this book?
Ummm, I would recommend reading some of her other works first. This one is a bit of a departure from her usual style.

How did this book make my list?
I would like to read all of Tan’s works.

Has it won any awards?
No.

Favorite quotes:
“A mother is the one who fills your heart in the first place. She teaches you the nature of happiness: what is the right amount, what is too much, and the kind that makes you want more of what is bad for you. A mother helps her baby flex her first feelings of pleasure. She teaches her when to later exercise restraint, or to take squealing joy in recognizing the fluttering leaves of the gingko tree, to sense a quieter but more profound satisfaction in chancing upon an everlasting pine. A mother enables you to realize that there are different levels of beauty, and therein lie the sources of pleasure, some of which are popular and ordinary, and thus of brief value, and other of which are difficult and rare, and hence worth pursuing.”- p 30, 31

“The stone stairs were smooth and coolly sensual. He thought about the millions of bare soles that had climbed these same steps over the past centuries. What prayers did they come with, what fungus on their feet?” – p 381

Anything else?
Amy Tan first said that Bibi Chen had been a real person who communicated from the dead parts of this story. Tan later recanted and admitted the entire thing is fictional.

Personal thoughts:
This latest novel from Amy Tan is different from her others. While most of them examine issues surrounding second or third generation Asian Americans, or struggles during turbulent times in China – this one centers around a group of Americans who travel to a country with Asian history. The roles are reversed, the Americans are very out of place and severely ignorant of customs and traditions. They completely trust in the infallibility of their nationality and believe that they are capable of totally changing their surroundings without negative consequence.

While the story was different from what she traditionally writes, this story was engaging and entertaining. The characters were adequately awkward in a foreign country. None of them were really charming enough for me to actively like, except for Bibi. And the entire time I thought I had the ending figured out, but it turns out I was completely wrong. I’m 100% certain this is my least favorite of Tan’s books, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

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