Sarah Canary
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Sarah Canary

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  755 ratings  ·  134 reviews
When an enigmatic woman cloaked in black wanders into a Chinese labor camp in the Pacific Northwest of 1873, one man is chosen to lead her out into the woods. But soon, he becomes the enchanted follower. Thus begins a magical journey. . . .
Paperback, 290 pages
Published July 1st 1995 by Zebra (first published 1991)
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Danna
A vividly imagined and charming retelling of the Wizard of Oz, with a liberal pinch of sci-fi thrown in the mix. Fowler reimagines Dorothy, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Straw Man as Old West characters that romp their way through the Pacific Coast, San Fransico's Chinatown and numerous frontier towns. Along the way they butt up against an appropriate Wicked Witch of the West character,but continue on in pursuit of their individual and mutual dreams (just like the film). One suggestion: don't read...more
Sara
The Jane Austen Book Club somewhat misrepresents Karen Joy Fowler's prowess as a storyteller. Sarah Canary is her first novel, and it's riveting, mystical, gorgeous...a mysterious mute woman wanders into a 19th century Washington railworkers camp and gets misplaced when the Chinese laborer who finds her attempts to escort her to an insane asylum. I have no idea what else to say about it except that you should read it immediately!
Kathy Duncan
Sarah Canary, wearing a battered but fashionable black dress, appears out of thin air to Chin in the archetypal forest of the American west. Initially, he mistakes her for the "ghost lover," who will abduct him for an enchanted evening of love and return him a century later in human years, leaving him prosperous beyond his wildest dreams. Instead, Sarah Canary is a totally addled, ugly white woman. Is she a crazy woman? A traumatized victim, left to roam the woods? Someone's lost, mentally chall...more
Her Royal Orangeness
WHY I READ THIS BOOK
Fowler is best known as the author of "The Jane Austen Book Club." Based on that book, I had dismissed the author as a chick lit writer and never so much as glanced at her other work.

Several months ago, there was an ongoing online discussion about why female authors were rarely nominated for a certain sci-fi book award. (Unfortunately, I didn't bookmark any of the articles, and now I can't find them.) As a result of that discussion, some well-known authors posted lists of wha...more
Jenee
When I first read this book I hated it, but after thinking about it for awhile I think its one of my favorite books. It's very odd and has an almost 19 hundreds circus feel too it. I would highly suggest reading it.

I read this for my AP english class and everyone in my class picked out the obvious topics in the book like race and gender in the 1800s but I skipped past all the and saw the real mystery. There was such a strange feeling that came with reading the book and I think that's why I hated...more
Leah
Now this book will rattle any feminist. Told from a historical standpoint of about 1873 it is full of antecedents about the treatment and psychological and physical characteristics of women. I have a feeling a lot of it is meant as black satire however it leaves an unsettling feeling in the pit of your stomach remembering how far women have come.

Having finished it now, definitely satire, and if taken in a different light quite funny too. I really enjoyed her opening couple of pages to each chap...more
Nikki
I do not know what to make of this book. I suspected I wasn't going to enjoy it, since I haven't enjoyed other stuff by Karen Joy Fowler, but that's not exactly what happened. I did get caught up in the story, intrigued by the mystery of Sarah Canary. At the same time, I felt like it was one of a type of novel I don't get on very well with, something very opaque, where motivations aren't clear and things just happen to the characters as if they are just giving themselves over to whichever way li...more
Simon
A beautifully written, philosophical work set in late nineteenth century America that explores issues of racism, sexism, mental illness and exploitation of the time.

Sarah Canary, so named by one of the central characters of the story, appears out of nowhere to blaze a path through Northwest America and the lives of the people she encounters despite not being able to understand anyone, nor speak intelligibly herself. Her origin remains a mystery throughout and it never becomes clear why she seems...more
Yvonne
This book gave me a taste for Karen Joy Fowler's books that was long unsatisfied (until I found her next book some four years later!). The story seemlessly blends a science fiction motiv with a dark and quirky historical setting. If you enjoy cross-genre experiments, check this one out.

Unfortunately, Ms. Fowler seems to have a day job that keeps her happy because she has only published four novels since 1993. Each novel is very different from the others, and she only repeated the historical sett...more
Molly
This book is inventive, brilliant and a masterpiece of original, vibrant writing. Set in 1870's West coast America the book is replete with geniune hoeroes and heroines including the elusive and elemental Sarah Canary, a kidnapped Chinaman, an escaped lunatic, a sex-positive suffragist and a drunken, shellshocked Civil War vet. Fowler manages to create a story that is inventive, surreal and at times, amazingly profound. (A fun counterpoint for this book would be Marge Piercy's book Sex Wars, she...more
Barbara
I didn't think I wanted to keep reading, but I'm glad I did because the reward paid off. Be prepared to be confused, though, and don't expect to ever really find out who Sarah is. Like the characters surrounding her in this novel, she can be whoever you want her to be, which makes this curiously like meta-fiction. It is also a short history of women's roles in the west at the end of the 19th century.
E Wilson

The narrative of the story was like an old penny dreadful novel. Set
in the West after the Civil War, a motley group of characters are thrown together due to the mysterious Sarah Canary. There is Chin the
Chinaman who wants to take her back to her family and home wherever
that is. He is very leery of moving through the white society of that time and rightfully so. He is joined by B.J. the mental patient. B.J.
seems in awe of Sarah. Adelaide is a feisty suffragette making her
living by traveling aro...more
Jay Daze
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ben Babcock
It is a widely accepted fact that our passions and interests are not evenly distributed among the eras of human history. Some prefer tales of neolithic courage; others are interested in ancient Greece, Ilium, Rome. I have a soft spot for medieval and Tudor England; even Victorian England has its allure. Late 19th-century America, not so much. I do not avoid books set in that time, nor do I go out of my way to read them.

The atmosphere of Sarah Canary's time period holds little appeal for me. Asyl...more
Magdelanye
Sarah Canary is less a person than a projection, a receptacle for the fanatsies of others. This may be the usual lot for the stereotypical beauty but Sarah Canary is not lovely, nor does she exhibit many signs of intelligence or sympathy for others. Indeed, she is impressively lacking in social skills, and her behavior is peculiar and unsettling.
Mute and possessed of an exsaperating attempt to elude her would be saviors, nevertheless, the effect she has on other's, when they can't ignore her, is...more
April Durham
I really enjoyed this book. It's wonderfully written with a very modern approach to an historical period. The characters are both hilarious and tenderly heartbreaking. Even when you don't like them, you love them. The handling of the Sarah Canary character as an alien is so subtle and thoughtful that it just constantly astounded me. Often communication is befouled by mis-hearing or obsessive listening for danger, especially by the insane man, BJ, but it reflects how easy it is to become confused...more
Trin
After loving The Jane Austen Book Club so much, I was really expecting to love this, too; however, I found it disappointing. It's Fowler's first novel, published more than a decade before Book Club, and I guess it shows—Sarah Canary contains a great cast of characters, including a struggling feminist and a Chinese immigrant whom I loved, and it makes evocative use of its setting, the Pacific Northwest in the early 1870s. Yet nothing really seems to come of the various bar fights, the river boat...more
Larisa
Throughout this novel, I--like several of the characters--wondered why everyone kept chasing after the mysterious Sarah Canary, when she seemed to bring nothing but trouble and gave nothing in return. Indeed, toward the end I also found myself wondering why I kept reading the book. I did develop an extreme fondness for Chin, the Chinaman who first sets off with Sarah Canary and finds more adventure than he bargained for. Also, I did enjoy the introductory section to each chapter, where Fowler su...more
Carolyn Mck
A remarkable first novel by an author who wrote the light, entertaining Jane Austen Book Club and whose latest novel is long listed for the Booker. My library copy is marked Sci Fi but I read it as a fable and social commentary. Sarah Canary is a woman who stumbles into a Chinese workers' camp in NW US in the 1870s. She vocalises and sings but doesn't speak intelligibly. Sarah becomes different for different people. For Chin she may be a ghost or a white demon; in any case she should be propitia...more
Tzu-mainn Chen
It is 1873, and a mysterious woman stumbles into a Chinese laborer camp in the American West. She moves erratically, emits strange noises, and is clearly insane. Chin Ah Kin is asked to return her to the nearby asylum, but the task proves to be more difficult than initially thought. Others become involved - a mental patient, a suffragette, and a cynical survivor of the Civil War - and the resulting complications lead to unexpected journeys.

Much of the book reads like an indictment of American so...more
Jason
Sarah Canary is a surprising, thoughtful, meditative novel that is interested in the alienness of humanity, of the cruelty and backwards attitudes its people hold, and the kindness and heart that is still there, despite everything else.

The basic plot structure is that of a series of travels, when Sarah Canary (so named because of her singing), an ugly white woman who can speak no sensible language, appears from seemingly nowhere in front of a chinese man in the mid 1800s. Their travels involve...more
Lis
I enjoyed this quirky and unusual book. (I read it because I loved Fowler's later book, We Are All Totally Beside Ourselves.)

Though Sarah Canary is the character the book is named for, we see her but don't really learn much about her (and based on the author's notes at the end, that is deliberate: "...what you perceive has more to do with who you are than what you're looking at. Everyone in the book has a different explanation for who Sarah Canary is, based on who they need her to be or wish her...more
Angela
Ughhh. Normally, I'd be all about the ingredients: a bit o' healthy femrage, a post-Civil War setting, weird progressive/speculative fiction-type sci fi. It even made the SF Masterworks series!

Alas, all the ingredients added up to cook a dud. This book dragged and draaaagged and draaaaagged. Its tone was so impenetrably ponderous that, from about midway through, I just wished it would be over - and fast.

The plot: a strange lady shows up in rural Washington state, 1870something. She wears a blac...more
Res
The one where Chin becomes responsible for a strange white woman who won't speak and follows her all over the post-Civil War West, picking up strange allies and strange enemies along the way.

This is the sort of book that reviewers tend to describe as "an exploration of ..." or "an examination of ..." That's not inaccurate, except that it's also a romp. You could think of it as sort of the Funhouse of Bigotry -- violent bigotry is the engine of most of the action, and casual bigotry is the langua...more
Julie
First off, do not read the introduction in the masterworks edition if you're not familiar with the story, as was my case. It reveals a lot of what will and will not happen.

Otherwise, I did not like this book. Until perhaps a few chapters toward the end none of the characters were really engaging. There is a lot of racism, sexism and ableism that is probably meant to show us how far we have and haven't come but I found it infuriating and depressing more than thought-provoking or whatever it was s...more
Christine
With so many good SciFi titles either on my shelf or coming soon from the library, I just couldn't engage with this book; I did read about 1/4 before finally abandoning it...just didn't care about the characters or story.
Bob Newport
Karen Fowler wrote this is 1991. It was referred to me as Science Fiction, one of ten best by female sci-fi writers. It is NOT your grandfather's science fiction! It is perhaps more accurately described as historical fiction, set in the 1870's in Northwest Territory, it chronicles the fictional adventures of four people, one women and three men, as they attempt to aid an enigmatic second woman (?) on a journey from the territory to San Francisco. The story, which is amazingly well told, humorous...more
Tom Whalley
I was told this book was funny. I was told this was a satire. I was told this book had heart.

You know what? Fuck this book.

This is a book, set in the late 1800s, in the west, about how fucked up it is to be a woman or a non-white man. It's written in a super flippant style, I guess for "comedy," that just winds up giving you the impression that Karen Joy Fowler is a shut-in white guy who doesn't think women are really people. I know she's not. What the hell.

There's no jokes in this book, just at...more
Taryn Pierson
I would never wish grad school on anyone, least of all myself, but I would have liked to discuss this book with a professor and a bunch of lit nerds. I don't feel compelled to write an eight-page paper about it, complete with block quotes and 5-10 reputable outside sources, which is one reason I remain firmly outside the world of academia. Still, Sarah Canary is so dense it would have been nice to unpack it with a little guidance from a sweatered and bespectacled lit professor with feminist lean...more
Thom
Karen Joy Fowler's first novel was Sarah Canary, and this well recognized work was added to the list of Science Fiction Masterworks just last year. I left one spot open on my list of authors for the Women of Genre Fiction reading challenge, and upon discovering the setting of this book, it was added to the final slot.

First off, there are editions of this book with a foreword or an epilog, and reviews a plenty warning not to read either. The Plume trade paperback edition seems to lack both, at le...more
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1448
I was born in Bloomington, Indiana. I was due on Valentine's Day but arrived a week early; my mother blamed this on a really exciting IU basketball game. My father was a psychologist at the University, but not that kind of psychologist. He studied animal behavior, and especially learning. He ran rats through mazes. My mother was a polio survivor, a schoolteacher, and a pioneer in the co-operative...more
More about Karen Joy Fowler...
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“Lots of people go mad in January. Not as many as in May, of course. Nor June. But January is your third most common month for madness.” 31 likes
“Owls hoot in B flat, cuckoos in D, but the water ousel sings in the voice of the stream. She builds her nest back of the waterfalls so the water is a lullaby to the little ones. Must be where they learn it.” 7 likes
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