Sunday, March 19, 2006

Good Dreaming

The conversation ended when Augustine asked me to define happiness. I began to fumble with the word. Then I used the phrase "pursuit of happiness" and became even more confused when she remarked that it did not seem that what I described as happiness could be gained by pursuit. When I reached the point of embarrassed confusion, she did not laugh. She only repeated, "That is the trouble with words." "But you people use words constantly to describe your dreams." "Yes, that is the best way we know. Except dance and music. They are better." "But you use words only to describe things, not concepts, not meaning behind things." "Yes," she would agree, and we would be back in the same circular discussion, until she would beg me please to stop making her talk.
Words and dreams are at the core of The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant. The kin--there is no he, she, man, woman, sister, brother, mother, father, all are kin--of Ata live for dreaming. Their lives are simple and follow a seasonal and ritual pattern. Everything they do they do to enhance their dreams. The highest compliment among them is to say that someone is a strong dreamer. But the dreams of the kin of Ata are not ordinary dreams. They are more on the order of a collective unconscious. The purpose of dreaming is to attain a higher consciousness. Too much talking interferes with dreaming. Yet every morning when they wake, there is a ritual telling of dreams. And every night before sleep, the community gathers for stories and dance and music. But words, as the passage above indicates, are only used to describe things. There are no morals or lessons in the stories so that everyone may take from them what they need when they need it. Ata is a utopian island community. All are equal. Crime is unheard of. Nothing is wasted and no one wants for anything. And the kin of Ata are multi-racial. They have always lived on their island. Where did they come from? I will not tell you and spoil the creation myths. Into this utopia comes the narrator whose name we never learn. All we know is that he is a famous writer and not a very nice person. The book begins with him murdering his girlfriend. In the process of running away, he loses control of his car on a curving mountain road and goes off a cliff. He wakes up in Ata. The novel is the story of his assimilation into the community. It is not an easy transition. The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You is an enjoyable read. We know only as much as the narrator does and learn about Ata in bits and pieces. This gives the book a sort of mystery and tension to hold the reader's interest. Without it, the story would be a bit dull. The language is straightforward and simple; unadorned like the people of Ata. There are ideas in this book, food for thought kinds of ideas. While the book is not specifically for young adults, I would have loved this book when I was a teenager. There is some sex, but is no more than what you'd get in a PG-13 movie. It's a perfect read for a dreamy, moody, idealistic kid. Heck, it's a good read for dreamy, moody, idealistic adults too.