On the advice of a five-dollar psychic, Tina Martin, a zany, overworked mother of two, quits her high-powered job and moves her family to Shanghai. Tina yearns for this new setting to bring her the zen-like inner peace she’s always heard about on infomercials. Instead, she becomes a totally exasperated fish out of water, doing wacky things like stealing the shoes of a shifty delivery man, spraying local women with a bidet hose, and contemplating the murder of her new pet cricket.
It takes the friendship of an elderly tai chi instructor, a hot Mandarin tutor, and several mah-jongg-tile-slinging expats to bring Tina closer to a culture she doesn’t understand, the dream job she never knew existed, and the self she has always sought. Fish Heads and Duck Skin will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered who they are, why they were put here, and how they ever lived before eating pan-fried pork buns.
My thoughts: I struggled a bit with this book because of the slight “make fun of the weird customs” tone at the beginning of it, which annoyed me as to the Shanghainese, those aren’t weird customs – it’s their country. But once Tina realises she’s the one with the weird customs it gets a lot better. She doesn’t adapt as quickly as her kids do, but then kids always pick up languages fast, eat whatever interests them and generally just get on with it in a way most adults can’t.
Yes there are some things that happen in China that are awful, their human rights record reflects that easily, but this book manages to find the bright spots and levity too. The fakes so good you almost can’t tell the difference, the kind tai chi instructor who just keeps trying with Tina, the friends she makes, even if none of them are actually Chinese. It’s very much a fish out of water story, although not the tasty kind little Pippa enjoys eating.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.