QUEEN OF DREAMS (2004)
In this novel, 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.
Queen of Dreams:
“This story of an emotionally distant mother and a daughter trying to find herself transcends cultural boundaries. Queen of Dreams combines the elements that Divakaruni is known for, the Indian American experience and magical realism, in a fresh mix. The tale succeeds on two levels. She effectively takes the reader into an immigrant culture but she also shows the common ground that lies in a world that some would find foreign. The search for identity and a sense of emotional completion is not confined to small corners of the world. It is a dilemma that all readers can understand.” (Denver Post)
“Queen of Dreams is a riveting story, eloquently written. Divakaruni’s attention to detail in descriptive passages is beautifully telling without being at all overblown. A tiny glimpse into the family dynamic, for example, is simple yet vividly potent, as Rakhi describes her long-misunderstood father cleaning up the kitchen after a meal, “humming a Hindi song as he scrubbed the sink with Comet, his hands encased in neon yellow gloves. He was always the tidy one in our household, the methodical one, the one with music. My mother — secretive, stubborn, unreliable — couldn’t hold a tune to save her life. I wanted to be just like her.” (Boston Globe)
“Strong narrative, dream journal entries, and Rakhi’s own voice meld into a masala of page-turning addiction.” (Baltimore Sun)
“Magical. In lyrical, poetic prose, Divakaruni manages to be hopeful without offering false reassurances, showing how identity — both individual and communal — is equally shaped by loss and creation.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “Queen of Dreams” explores the connection between wakefulness and the subconscious. Rakhi, a first-generation American of Indian descent, is the daughter of a dream teller. A painter, she’s disconnected from her parents and divorced from her husband. Rakhi’s first steps to reconciliation come when a family member dies, and the horror of 9/11 creates another opportunity for resolving longstanding issues of alienation. This type of material can easily slip into melodrama, but Divakaruni resists easy solutions. Her prose is crisp, and the elegant rhythms of Divakaruni’s native Indian tongue give “Queen of Dreams” an exotic — and yes, dreamlike — quality.” (Pittsburgh Tribune)
“Divakaruni’s socially and psychologically precise fiction always possesses a mystical dimension, whether overtly, as in The Mistress of Spices, or poetically, as in The Vine of Desire, a beguiling and inspiriting trait she shares with Alice Hoffman, albiet from a Hindu perspective. Now Divakaruni’s signature fusion of the realistic and the cosmic achieves a new intensity in her most riveting and politically searing novel to date.” (Booklist, starred review)
“Poet and novelist Divakaruni stirs up a tasty curry that’s half-mystery, half fantasy in a clever tale of a young woman trying to sort out the mystery of her mother’s death-and life. Richly textured and artfully told through the varied perspecitves of believable characters.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Speed read Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s ‘Queen of Dreams’ and you’re in for big trouble. I know. I raced through the novel the first time I read it, and it was a nightmare. When I arrived at the very last paragraph I knew I had to go back and reread the novel word-by-word. That’s the only way you can do justice to this gem of a novel that’s about acculturation and the unconscious, or more simply put, three generations of Indian-Americans in America. ‘Queen of Dreams’ is meant to be savored not gulped, enjoyed not polished off in one sitting. Over the last decade or so Divakaruni has published several outstanding works of fiction including ‘Sister of My Heart,’ ‘The Vine of Desire,’ and ‘Mistress of Spices.’ Whether she’s getting better as a writer or simply maintaining her own initial standards of excellent, I’m not sure. Her first book, ‘Arranged Marriages,’ was stunning in its portrayal of the clash of cultures. ‘Queen of Dreams’ is stunning, too — a work that moves on the one hand toward dreams and the unconscious and on the other hand toward politics and sociology.” (Santa Rosa Press Democrat)
“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.” (Publishers Weekly)