The Original Dream by Nukila Amal, translated by Linda Owens

Review:

Product DetailsThe writing was beautiful but I lost the overall point of the story. It never felt like I found the revelation it was adding up to which left me with a feeling of disappointment after a promising ride.

For Maya, history is like a dream, and her dreams are like a history of her life and how it relates to others. Effortlessly defying and calling into question time and space, Maya inhabits fantastical realities filled with shamans, romantic longing, a daughter’s struggles, and a flying dragon.

Lyrically flowing between Maya’s multiple realities, The Original Dream is the story of a young independent Indonesian woman trying to break free from cultural and social conventions while also searching for her place among family and friends. With guidance from her parents, coworkers, and sister, along with a newborn filled with the wisdom of elders, Maya navigates her perceptions, looking for answers to unknown questions. Whether soaring through the nighttime sky, caring for her nephew, or tending to guests at the hotel where she works, she tries to delineate the difference between dreams and reality and if such a difference even matters.

Along the way, the book was quite pleasant to read. The author changed from the third person point of view in the chapters about Maya’s life and second person point of view in the chapters that are in her dreams, leaving a clear distinction between them and alleviating the reader from any sort of confusion about whether you were in reality. I really liked the way she did that because though it should eventually have been made obvious by events and characters that are only in one or the other, the style choice made it easier on me.

Her life and her dreams were both interesting and fun to read about. Maya’s dreams included parts of her real life but also distortions of it, delusions and sense sometimes in a single scene. Each scene was written in a way that propelled the plot forward, challenging Maia in the dream or Maya in real life to see things differently, or at least contemplate the differences.

The writing is gorgeous and this book had one of my favorite openings ever.

My father is a moon orchid, white, from the jungle. My mother is a red rose in the garden, near the fence. They met one morning in the port. Gave birth to me. Pink baby frangipani. A funerary flower.

Isn’t that just gorgeous? I  get how it’s also kind of nonsense, but it sets up a certain expectation of how the story will be told. The first chapter goes on this way, metaphorically talking about her parents and ancestors and there’s a place where she goes through a photo album that is written in this romanticized way that just pulls at me. It was such a strong beginning. I had felt like it was all adding up to some revelation of who Maya or Maia was or what her place in the world was and then I felt like it just fizzled away in the last chapter. I did’t get it.

That said, don’t let it or the rating distract from trying the book out alone. It was only that the end doesn’t make the plot clear but some stories just beautifully meander around and it’s still nice to read. I would definitely read this again over several classics I was forced to read throughout college. I would read it before Dickens, for sure.

This was my December pick for Kindle First and it’s still available at Amazon here.

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