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Saving Fish from Drowning Reader’s Guide

By Amy Tan

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Saving Fish from Drowning begins, “It was not my fault.” How is the concept of personal responsibility important in the novel?

2. How does Vera’s experience in the jungle influence her book on self-reliance?

3. In what sense do the tourists feel culpable for the suffering they see in Burma? Does Amy Tan offer a solution to their feelings of guilt?

4. Bibi is not necessarily always a reliable or likable narrator. Can we always take her observations at face value?

5. Tan prefaces Saving Fish from Drowning with “A Note to the Reader” that is mostly fictitious, and also invents the accompanying newspaper article. Why do you think she made this choice? How did it shape your impression of the story?

6. The novel takes its title from a euphemism for fishing. In what ways are names and “brands” important to the story? How are words used to conceal truth in Burma and among the travelers?

7. What are Bibi’s attitudes toward sex and the human body? How do her observations reflect her own psychology and background?

8. The first time in her adult life that Bibi feels “unmindful” passionate love results in her accidental death. Is her demise tragic? Comic? Ironic? Why does Tan leave us to assume for most of the novel that Bibi was murdered?

9. How does the tour group’s behavior reinforce or rebut stereotypes of the “ugly American”?

10. If you are familiar with Tan’s other novels, what parallels can you draw between the mother-daughter relations in her previous stories and Bibi’s impressions of her mother and stepmother?

11. Is this an optimistic story?

12. Have you ever been in a situation in which you came to have mixed feelings about the volunteer or charitable work that you were doing? If so, how did this experience affect your beliefs about charity?

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