Drowning in fiction

At the end of this weekend, I didn’t have a lot of art to show for my time off. The weather, finally descending into hot summer heck, knocked me off my pins, made me grumpy and unable to string together any coherent thoughts of my own, except for ‘I much prefer chilly weather!’

I fussed about with oil paints, destroying three perfectly good canvases by glopping on unhappy color mixtures (no one will ever see these paintings, but now I’m 6 paintings into my first 100), then I took up with Amy Tan’s 2005 book, Saving Fish from Drowning as I lolled in front of the fan.

Amy Tan normally writes weepers dealing with mothers and daughters. I love them. She has the amazing ability to write books that make me forget that I’m reading a book. Her characters seem to speak to me directly, right in my ear.

Saving Fish from Drowning isn’t that kind of book. The only mother/daughter dynamic is secondary to the main plot: 12 American tourists visit Burma and disappear. No weeper this. Instead  it’s a pretty funny political poke at upper-middle class liberal Bay Areans (specifically San Franciscans, who, by any other measure of wealth in the world, would be considered merely rich to fantastically porked).

It’s also a poke at the Burmese ruling class, who unfortunately doesn’t seem to care about people or anything else except their own sorry hides. And it’s a sad eulogy for the people of Burma, city dwellers, country folk, and tribes people, who have been brutalized, terrorized, raped and tortured into quiet submission.

Tan paints her story of Americans in Burma with her soft, easy-to-read style. Saving Fish from Drowning is a different kind of book for Tan, and I’m glad I spent the weekend sprawled on the living room floor reading it.

It’s made me hungry to know more about Burma/Myanmar, and the more I learn the more horrified I become. This exotic country, evidently painfully beautiful is also painfully traumatized.  I am always appalled at how easily humans—particularly young men with guns—become psychopathic killing machines.

But still, beauty and kindness must endure in all places, for not every human being will become possessed by demons from hell. For a wonderful photo essay of Burma that shows the light that still exists in the populace, as well as a look at what they suffer, take a look at photojournalist Geoffrey Hiller’s photo essay, Burma: Grace under Pressure.

And now, despite the on-going heat wave, I must get myself back to work.