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Review of FISH by L.S. Matthews

by Julie Brinker

Matthews, L.S. 2004. FISH. New York: Delacorte, Random House. ISBN 1400085217

An absolutely amazing, beautiful, outstanding novel, FISH is the story of Tiger, the child of aid workers in an unnamed country beset with war and drought and useless flooding, and his/her escape through dust storms, sucking mud flats, mountainous terrain, armed insurgents, and just plain exhaustion, to safe territory. The family is led by the Guide, and Tiger is kept going by the effort to protect the small fish found in a mud puddle which s/he carries carefully, in a pot, a water bottle, and finally in his/her mouth, to safety. Matthews' simple, clear prose is straight out of Pinter or Beckett--more questions are raised than are answered--and the images are astonishing and unforgettable. When Tiger goes to catch the fish, "The water was almost mud, and it felt like putting your hands into cold soup."

None of the characters, except Tiger, has a name; the country might be Afghanistan or the Sudan or anywhere war and weather have forced the population to flee; the Guide may be man or ghost or angel or more; and the Fish--the Fish may be Hope or Life or the Soul or the promise of Christ. Matthews leaves it entirely up to the reader, and it's impossible not to think strongly and deeply about difficult journeys, sanctuary, and the behavior of mankind for and against itself, during and after reading this astonishing book.

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