Synopses & Reviews
In Queen of Dreams, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni once more spins a fresh, spellbinding story of transformation. Rakhi, a young artist and divorced mother living in Berkeley, California, is struggling to keep her footing, with her family and her 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 9/11, Rakhi and her Indian friends suffer a brutal attack in which they are called “terrorists,” unveiling dark new complexities about their acculturation.
“A dream is a telegram from the hidden world,” Rakhi's mother writes in her dream 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. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. (Sept. 14)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Richly textured and artfully told through the varied perspectives of believable characters." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] riveting story, eloquently written. Divakaruni's attention to detail in descriptive passages is beautifully telling without being at all overblown." Boston Globe
In lush and elegant prose, Divakaruni has crafted a vivid and enduring dream the story of Rakhi, a young artist, who finds solace in a dream journal written by her recently deceased mother.
About the Author
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of the bestselling novels The Mistress of Spices
, Sister of My Heart
, and The Vine of Desire
; the prize-winning story collections Arranged Marriage
and The Unknown Errors of Our Lives
; and four acclaimed volumes of poetry. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker
, The Atlantic Monthly
, Good Housekeeping
, O: The Oprah Magazine
, The Best American Short Stories
, The O’Henry Prize Stories
and The New York Times
. She teaches creative writing at the University of Houston and divides her time between Houston and the San Francisco area. Her Web site is www.chitradivakaruni.com.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Reading Group Guide
"A dream is a telegram from the hidden world." So writes the matriarch of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's mesmerizing Queen of Dreams. A novel that unites mystical, unseen worlds with the all-too-real dilemmas of modern life, this is the story of Rakhi's family–three generations with shared hopes and distinct memories. Rakhi is a single mother living in Berkeley, California, where she struggles to keep a teahouse in business while nurturing her career as an artist. Her mother is a dreamteller, born with the ability to experience and interpret the dreams of others. This double-edged gift allows her to preview fate, but isolates her from her daughter and husband. It is only through a painful, bewildering turn of events that Rakhi is at last able to know the truth about her mother's life in India, and her family's destiny in America.
Woven with the evocative, elegant storytelling that has made Divakaruni such an acclaimed literary treasure, Queen of Dreams provides numerous topics for further consideration. This is a tale from which you may be reluctant to awaken; we hope this guide will enhance your enjoyment of it.
1. Compare Rakhi's parenting style to that of her mother's. To what do you attribute these differences? What universal wisdom about mothers and daughters does the novel convey?
2. Discuss the role of the snake and its presence in the life of Rakhi's mother. Does it provide enlightenment, or is it merely a messenger? Do you view it as an ominous or wise presence in her life?
3. What transformations occur in Rakhi after her mother's death? How do her attitudes toward Sonny and her father change? What obstacles prevented her from trusting them previously?
4. How do you perceive Jona's visionary gifts? As a twenty-first century Californian, will she experience dreamtelling benefits not afforded to her grandmother, or do you predict that Jona's intuitive legacy will be diminished by contemporary Western culture?
5. Chapter 21 describes the process by which Mrs. Gupta was trained in her arts, and the many sacrifices (emotional as well as material) presented by life as a dreamteller. What analogies does her experience offer about the nature of all vocational choices? Does the modern world encourage us to discern and nurture our true talents?
6. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni presents a variety of points of view in Queen of Dreams. How does Rakhi's storytelling voice compare to the one presented in her mother's journals? What is the effect of occasional chapters in third-person narration?
7. What is meant by being a "queen of dreams?" What are the duties and powers of this position? Who are her subjects? How would you characterize her kingdom?
8. Consider the lessons presented in chapter 11. What results do you derive from applying them to your own dreams? What is your personal understanding of the purpose and origin of dreams, especially in response to the portions of Samyukta's speech recalled in the closing paragraphs of chapter 27? How do the various otherworldly images presented in the novel illustrate the essence of the primary characters?
9. How did your perception of Rakhi change throughout the book? Did you initially see her as a pessimist or a realist, or neither?
10. In what way do Jespal and Belle serve as a backdrop for the paradoxes of love and companionship presented elsewhere in the novel?
11. Do the questions presented at the end of chapter 18 parallel your approach to literature in any way?
12. Discuss the novel's portrayal of 9/11 and the impact of terrorism on Rakhi's community. What microcosm of America is embodied in Kurma House International? What safe havens or coping strategies did you seek during the autumn of 2001?
13. What is your understanding of the mysterious black car and Rakhi's silent patron? What is the significance of her asana lesson?
14. The childhood memories of Rakhi's father indicate the true depth of his unrealized talent, at last brought to life when he joins her business. What was the impetus for his decision to cook once again, despite his pragmatic persona? What do you make of his desire to establish an honor system for payment, and the belief that gratitude does not need to be articulated? Do you believe that on some level he was able to "banish" Rakhi's ominous competitor?
15. Consider the second definition of dreams–those related not to sleep, but to aspiration. What hopes and wishes are presented in Queen of Dreams? What ultimately determined whether those dreams came to fruition?
16. Reread the first chapter again, exploring it in the context of the novel's ending. How does Mrs. Gupta approach her own death? Would you be able to receive such predictions as calmly? What enabled Rakhi to at last experience bliss, even in the wake of tragedy?
17. Are premonitions beneficial?