12 Americans, each, of course, with their own micro-drama, sign up for a tour through China and Burma with museum owner Bibi Chen, who is dead before the story starts. Stuck in what she describes as limbo with the ability to go into people's minds and influence them, she follows her friends through the tour in Burma where they're kidnapped by a tribe who believe one of the tour members is a deity called "Younger White Brother" that can save them from being killed and harassed by the military government.
I would have to guess that adventure ensues; I stopped at pg. 204 in the hardcover. This is around the point that the tribesman and the supposedly sacred tour member, Rupert, meet. But I couldn't go on. I could not withstand the cardboard cut out characters with dialogue on par with an episode of Dora the Explorer. I couldn't deal with the terrible balance between the narrative, information and vocabulary. Amy Tan does a good job of making the reader also feel like their on a tour by describing the value and history of various temples, sacred objects, hotels, cultures and foods that the characters visit, but this is all said through Bibi Chen's narrative, whose language is stiff and not very colorful at all. So when she talks about the lantana or scarlet hibiscus they drive by on the bus, or when she uses words like 'lagniappes' or 'schadenfreud', they stick out completely and look unnatural.
I couldn't deal with the teases of adventure Amy Tan would give, by having her characters enter what definitely looks like it would be trouble (one character follows some strange woman to some far-off corner in a Burmese street market, another character gets left behind by the tour bus and falls into the hands of strict, deadly soldiers), only for the situations to result in shockingly bland conclusions. Under normal circumstances, meaning in the case that the rest of the story was entertaining, I wouldn't have minded these scenes. But those bits that looked like they promised adventure were the only saving graces for the book.
The one thing I can say is that I liked the way Tan places the theme of drowning in various places of the story, such as Bibi Chen's past, the history of an ancient Chinese coffin and probably some other places later. But other than this, I'm glad Amy Tan has a solid fan base of her own. I don't have to worry about paying attention to her stuff.