In her most spellbinding novel yet, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni spins a fresh, enchanting story of transformation that is as lyrical as it is dramatic.
Rakhi, a young artist and divorced mother living in Berkeley, California, is struggling to keep her footing with her family and with a world in alarming transition. Her mother is a dream teller, born with the ability to share and interpret the dreams of others, to foresee and guide them through their fates. This gift of vision fascinates Rakhi but also isolates her from her mother's past in India and the dream world she inhabits, and she longs for something to bring them closer. Caught beneath the burden of her own painful secret, Rakhi's solace comes in the discovery, after her mother's death, of her dream journals, which begin to open the long-closed door to her past.
As Rakhi attempts to divine her identity, knowing little of India but drawn inexorably into a sometimes painful history she is only just discovering, her life is shaken by new horrors. In the wake of September 11, she and her friends must deal with dark new complexities about their acculturation. Haunted by nightmares beyond her imagination, she nevertheless finds unexpected blessings: the possibility of new love and understanding for her family.
"A dream is a telegram from the hidden world," Rakhi's mother writes in her journals. In lush and elegant prose, Divakaruni has crafted a vivid and enduring dream, one that reveals hidden truths about the world we live in, and from which readers will be reluctant to wake.
Spiked with elements of mystery, suspense and the supernatural, Divakaruni's sixth novel is a pleasantly atypical tale of self-discovery. Rakhi, a single mother and struggling artist living in Berkeley, Calif., has always been vaguely aware of her own mother's unusual gift--the ability to interpret dreams. Between juggling a laundry list of other priorities--keeping her floundering tea shop afloat after a Starbucks-esque supercafe moves in across the street, battling her ex-husband for their daughter's affections, finding her artistic voice--Rakhi longs to know more about her mother's past and her own hazy Indian heritage. After a mysterious car accident claims her mother's life, Rakhi, with her father's help, sets out to decipher Mrs. Gupta's dream journals in hopes of unlocking the secrets of her peculiar double life. A shadowy man in white who appears at pivotal moments, a sinister rival and entries from Mrs. Gupta's dream journals all punctuate this cleverly imagined tale of love, forgiveness and new beginnings. Meanwhile, September 11 disrupts Rakhi's search for identity, and a vicious attack on her friends and family calls their notions of citizenship into question. Divakaruni (The Mistress of Spices; Sister of My Heart; etc.) does a good job working current issues into the novel and avoids synthetic characterization, creating a free-flowing story that will captivate readers.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 10, 2005
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Excerpt from Queen of Dreams by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
From the dream journals
Last night the snake came to me.
I was surprised, though little surprises me nowadays.
He was more beautiful than I remembered. His plated green skin shone like rainwater on banana plants in the garden plot we used to tend behind the dream caves. But maybe as I grow older I begin to see beauty where I never expected it before.
I said, It's been a while, friend. But I don't blame you for that. Not anymore.
To show he bore me no ill will either, he widened his eyes. It was like a flash of sun on a sliver of mirror glass.
The last time he'd appeared was a time of great change in my life, a time first of possibility, then of darkness. He had not returned after that, though I'd cried and called on him until I had no voice left.
Why did he come now, when I was finally at peace with my losses, the bargains I'd made? When I'd opened my fists and let the things I longed for slip from them?
His body glowed with light. A clear, full light tinged with coastal purples, late afternoon in the cypresses along the Pacific. I watched for a while, and knew he had come to foretell another change.
But whose--and what?
Not a birth. Rakhi wouldn't do that to herself, single mother that she is already. Though all my life that child has done the unexpected.
A union, then? Rakhi returning to Sonny, as I still hoped? Or was a new man about to enter her life?
The snake grew dim until he was the color of weeds in water, a thin echo suspended in greenish silt.
It was a death he was foretelling.
My heart started pounding, slow, arrhythmic. An arthritic beat that echoed in each cavity of my body.
Don't let it be Rakhi, don't let it be Sonny or Jonaki. Don't let it be my husband, whom I've failed in so many ways.
The snake was almost invisible as he curled and uncurled. Hieroglyphs, knots, ravelings.
Will it hurt? I whispered. Will it hurt a great deal?
He lashed his tail. The air was the color of old telegraph wire.
Will it at least be quick?
His scales winked yes. From somewhere smoke rolled in to cover him. Or was the smoke part of what is to come?
Will it happen soon?
A small irritation in the glint from his eyes. In the world he inhabited, soon had little meaning. Once again I'd asked the wrong question.
He began to undulate away. His tongue was a thin pink whip. I had the absurd desire to touch it.
Wait! How can I prepare?
He swiveled the flat oval of his head toward me. I put out my hand. His tongue--why, it wasn't whiplike at all but soft and sorrowful, as though made from old silk.
I think he said, There is no preparation other than understanding.
What must I understand?
Death ends things, but it can be a beginning, too. A chance to gain back what you'd botched. Can you even remember what that was?
I tried to think backward. It was like peering through a frosted window. The sand-filled caves. The lessons. We novices were learning to read the dreams of beggars and kings and saints. Ravana, Tunga-dhwaja, Narad Muni--. But I'd given it up halfway.
He was fading. A thought flowed over my skin like a breath.
But only if you seize the moment. Only if--
Then he was gone.
My mother always slept alone.
Until I was about eight years old, I didn't give it much thought. It was merely a part of my nightly routine, where she would tuck me in and sit on the edge of my bed for a while, smoothing my hair with light fingers in the half dark, humming. The next part of our bedtime ritual consisted of storytelling. It was I who made up the stories. They were about Nina-Miki, a girl my age who lived on a planet named Agosolin III and led an amazingly adventurous life. I would have preferred the stories to have come from my mother, and to have been set in India, where she grew up, a land that seemed to me to be shaded with unending mystery. But my mother told me that she didn't know any good stories, and that India wasn't all that mysterious. It was just another place, not so different, in its essentials, from California. I wasn't convinced, but I didn't fret too much. Nina-Miki's adventures (if I say so myself) were quite enthralling. I was proud of being their creator, and of having my mother, who was a careful listener, as my audience.
When the story was done my mother would kiss me, her lips as cool as silver on my forehead. Sleep now, she whispered as she left, shutting the door behind her. But I'd lie awake, listening to the soft cotton swish of her sari as she walked down the corridor. She'd stop at the door to my dad's bedroom--that was how I thought of the big, dark room in the back of the house with its large, too soft bed and its tie-dyed bedspread--and I'd hear the companionable rumble of their voices as they talked. In a few minutes I'd hear his door closing, her footsteps walking away. She moved quietly and with confidence, the way deer might step deep inside a forest, the rustle of her clothes a leafy breeze. I'd listen until I heard the door to the sewing room open and close, the sigh of the hinges. Then I'd let go and fall into the chocolate-syrup world of my dreams.