All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Fishing For Tigers – Emily Maguire

on October 27, 2012

Fishing For Tigers
Emily Maguire
Picador
2012, 325p
Read from my TBR shelves

Six years ago Mischa fled an abusive husband, leaving California for her family in Sydney and then on to Hanoi, Vietnam. She moved there with no job lined up, no real plan for what she wanted to do but things fell into place for her – she met an Australian ex-pat and became part of a tight-knit group and got a job editing translated pieces to make them more cohesive and natural sounding.

She loves Hanoi, with its vibrant, dirty, crowded streets and steamy heat. She’s happily single, having dated only a couple of people since coming to Vietnam. Asian men aren’t interested in Western women and it seems most of the ex-pat Western men prefer the local Asian women as well, leaving slim pickings for the ex-pat women. Then one of her friends, Matthew, introduces his young teenage son Cal, a Vietnamese-Australian, to their circle of friends. Matthew left his wife and children in Australia some years ago and previously any meetings between him and his son have occurred elsewhere. Matthew’s mother, a Vietnamese refugee, has been in no hurry to allow her oldest child to visit a country that brings about so many painful memories for her.

Cal and Mischa begin a friendship that turns quickly into an affair as Cal seems to pick Mischa to show him around parts of Hanoi when his father works. Mischa finds herself revelling in the fact that this beautiful, young man who could have any number of equally young and gorgeous girls, locals or holiday-makers, has chosen her. She experiences a sexual freedom that she hasn’t encountered before as they secretly meet up and also openly socialise as no one within the group suspects anything is going on.

I’m not an adventurous traveler, nor an experienced one. I’m more likely the girl who books an apartment in a high rise in Burleigh or something, because I like creature comforts. I have no desire to backpack around Europe or hike through Asia. But Fishing For Tigers took me to Hanoi and I loved it.

I think Maguire’s love of Hanoi shines through brilliantly in this novel. Every part of it is so lovingly described, but in a no holds barred, no rose-tinted glasses kind of way. The poverty and vastly different standards of living are not ignored nor is the lack of reliable power, air conditioning and sewage system. Hanoi is a living, breathing character in this book, from the crazy anarchy of the roads to the women chopping vegetables in the street, the pounding tropical rain, the steamy nights and the beauty of the Temple of Literature. It’s a city of over 1000 years of history with the bloodshed of the Vietnamese war still fresh. It is a place where Mischa has been able to find peace, to find herself after a long marriage to an abusive man. In Hanoi it seems, Mischa has found a way to be.

She has embraced a great life there – working gives her satisfaction as she edits a collection of stories about powerful and influential Vietnamese women from the course of history. She has a close group of friends that she meets up with regularly, enjoying a fairly busy social life. She lacks romance, but unlike several of her fellow ex-pat women, Mischa doesn’t really seem to be looking for it. When Cal arrives, eighteen and fresh out of high school from Australia, Mischa seems taken by his passionate ideas and enthusiasm as well as his firm opinions. At times though, he’s still very much a sulky 18 year old boy muddling his way through something he doesn’t quite understand and often his treatment of Mischa borders on cruel as he seems to seek to get a reaction from her. Cal is struggling with coming of age and identity, accepting his father who left him, his sister and their mother behind in Australia to come and live in a place that Cal’s mother and her family fled in horror. His mother can now, barely manage to speak of Vietnam and was horribly against Cal going there and it seems as though his mother worries that Cal will stay there for good. He’s straddling that line between childhood and adulthood and sometimes he says profound, meaningful adult things that suggest maturity and at other times he sinks into cheap insults, a child once again. I found Mischa pretty tolerant of Cal’s words, she seems to be mostly the one making the apologies, whether or not this was because she’d been previously abused and was a peacemaker or whether or not his words didn’t really bother her, I found it difficult to ascertain.

I found the folklore stories interwoven in the story to be beautiful, especially the ones that Mischa is editing and falling in love with for her work. It’s a project that speaks to her, it seems to be the thing that stirs up the most amount of feeling within her. The writing is so amazingly beautiful throughout this entire book, even when the characters are being horrible and selfish and terrible I still just loved this story. It’s the second book I’ve read by Emily Maguire now and although this one is very different to Taming The Beast (and far less challenging to read in terms of content) and I couldn’t put it down. I’ve just ordered Maguire’s 2 other fiction books that I don’t have and I can’t wait for them to arrive. I know that I’ll lose myself in her writing and end up somewhere else entirely than my little reading room!

This one is definitely one to put in the re-reading pile. I think it’ll be even better the second time around.

8/10

Book #214 of 2012

Fishing For Tigers is the 70th novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

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4 responses to “Fishing For Tigers – Emily Maguire

  1. […] has been reviewed for the Australian Women Writers challenge by Angela Literary Minded, Bree All the Books I can Read, and Janine Shambolic Living. I’m counting it as Book 6 toward my Aussie Authors […]

  2. This sounds like a lovely story, Bree. I’m sure if i read it i’d want to visit Hanoi!

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