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Friday, December 15, 2006

Alphabet of Dreams - Susan Fletcher

We are SO lucky in Oregon to have many great authors in our midst, and one of my favorites is Susan Fletcher. Alphabet of Dreams, her most recent novel, is, I think, on of her most finely crafted. It is a beautifully written, rich story which re-tells in a new way, the New Testament tale of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. The story is told from the point of view of a teenage girl, Mitra, who, along with her brother, five-year-old Babak, is traveling with one, then two, then three of the Wise Men who are following the tale they see in the night sky (two bright stars, together, apart, together, apart, together, apart) to witness the birth of a king. Babak is a central figure in the plot as he has the gift of dreaming for people dreams that portend the future and the wise men use his gift to help guide them. But the dreams he gives them suck the life-force from him, and it is all Mitra can do some days to keep him alive.

As I have said over and over in my booktalks, every journey tale is filled with obstacles to overcome, and this story fits that exactly. The tale is full of adventure and suspense, often the result bad choices made by young people who let hopes and dreams instead of common sense guide them. Mitra and Babak come from royal lineage, but their father tried to overthrow the king, and so they have all been banished from his kingdom. Mitra and Babak have been separated from everyone else in their family, and it is Mitra's greatest wish to be reunited with them and she will do nearly anything to get that. In her coming-of-age through the story, she learns that perhaps she has given up more than it was worth in this quest.

This is a beautifully told tale, woven together with cultural insights, highly developed characters, lyrical language and a mythical story that has lasted for 2000 years. I listened to it read by a Middle Eastern woman, and I think that added an additional layer of enjoyment for me, but this is an extraordinary piece of writing I would definitely recommend on paper or in your ears.


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