Author: Emily Maguire
Fishing For Tigers is not a book I would have picked up for myself and the cover, though beautiful, did not speak to me of must read contents. The blurb speaks of 35 year old Mischa, survivor of an extremely abusive marriage, in Vietnam reinventing herself and then embarking on an affair with an 18 year old boy.
Fishing For Tigers is a very quick read and a very easy read but it’s one that I think could benefit from a second read, a chance to pick up things that were missed or escaped my notice the first time round.
There was much more to the story than just what you were reading, I found, and a lot of it is played out between Mischa and Cal.
Mischa was orphaned at 11 and raised by her two older sisters. She met and married her husband very young, leaving Australia to make a life with him in California – far, far away from anyone who knew and loved her. The distance worked wonders to isolate Mischa from her family, and the physical distance was used to drive an emotional wedge that further isolated her. After twelve long, and often painful years, Mischa leaves her husband and ends up in Hanoi, Vietnam. A place where she knows no-one, has no ties and is totally free to be herself.
In the six years she has lived in Hanoi she has built a life for herself and is enjoying her freedom. She lives in relative luxury, she works editing for a magazine and she has found a group of Australian expats to form a friendship group with. One of these friends introduces his Australian-Vietnamese son to the group when he arrives from Australia for a visit and here things start to get interesting.
It seemed to me that Cal deliberately set out to seduce Mischa from their very first meeting, as a reader I spotted the intent behind seemingly flippant comments from that first get together and could see it was only a matter of time. The only thing I wasn’t certain of was the hows of the affair.
Maguire has described Hanoi in vivid detail; bringing to life the unreliable amenities, the sticky heat, the nature of the locals and the way much of life is lived in the street due to the cramped nature of living arrangements. Maguire immerses us in the lifestyle of Hanoi – the people, the place, the food, the weather and the traffic. Immerses us in the same way that Mischa is immersed, inside of Hanoi but also apart from it.
Cal is the backbone of the tension for the story with his way of being so different within their circle and also in the wider community. He is Vietnamese-Australian, his mother is a Vietnamese refugee totally against him going to Vietnam to spend time with his father. He has the Vietnamese look but his size and shape are different which have him standing out from the start, his family history is very much a part of the country but because of the traumatic memories his family refuses to speak of the country so he has very little knowledge of the country, doesn’t know the language and is unaware of the histories and folklore that Mischa has come across in editing the book of Vietnamese women throughout history.
He comes in with a very different outlook on the country, and the role the ex-pats play in the country too. He is the cause of much of the in-depth look we have at some of these characters.
Much of the novel paints Cal as exactly what he is, an 18 year old boy. There are times that he comes across as extremely insightful and intelligent but much of it he is a teenage brat with a chip on his shoulder. He is nasty, whiny and his treatment of Mischa borders on a different type of abuse than that she suffered at the hands of her husband and I wanted her to wake up and notice that. He could be cruel but most of the time he was just a needy boy that wanted her at his beck and call.
I found this to be quite an enjoyable look at Mischa’s journey of self discovery, and to an extent of Cal’s growing up and getting in touch with his history. There were things that turned me off and one of them was the whole affair to be honest. I am a little more than a 35 year old woman and I can not imagine for a second embarking on an affair with an 18 year old, I have friends my age with 18 year old children. Yes I have no doubt it happens but it just leaves a sour aftertaste for me. Also this is another book that uses the C word in the love scenes and that’s something that is a real mood killer for me.
I would recommend this one, it’s a great exploration-of-self story with some wonderful scenery that takes you to places far from home and one that I will probably never see first hand. A story that explores the many interpretations of folklore and the way that you see totally different meaning depending on where you are looking from.