cover image Tale of the Dreamer’s Son

Tale of the Dreamer’s Son

Preeta Samarasan. World Editions, $19.99 trade paper (496p) ISBN 978-1-64286-120-4

Samarasan (Evening Is the Whole Day) sets a fearless and complex family saga against the social and political upheaval of modern-day Malaysia. Cyril Dragon, still reeling from the ethnic violence of 1969, hears the voice of God and establishes the Muhibbah Centre for World Peace, a utopian community where all are equal, in the 1970s. He is soon joined by single mother Salmah and her six-year old son, Reza. Cyril and Salmah fall in love and have a son, Clarence Kannan Cheng-Ho Muhammad Yusuf Dragon, the novel’s narrator, and the family dynamics become increasingly precarious. It’s clear from Yusuf’s cynical narration—Cyril’s a “reluctant savior, asthmatic prophet”; Salmah had reached “the most despairing point of her life” before she met Cyril—that the Center for Peace will not last. When Cyril is arrested along with over 100 others in 1987 as part of the government’s “National Weeding Program,” 10-year-old Yusuf faces a rupture: “The old me began his slow death while the new one waited to be born.” As the nonlinear timeline expands into the near future, Yusuf recounts his years as a teacher in the 1990s and describes living with his mother in 2023. The writing is dazzling and poetic; Yusuf’s narration soars over place and time and renders the cast with astounding clarity. Fans of Min-Jin Lee, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Laila Lalami will find much to admire. (Nov.)