The Age of Dreaming, Nina Revoyr, Akashic Books, 2008, 327 pp
Again Nina Revoyr took me into another time here in the city where I live and showed me a world we can barely imagine in 2015. I loved her first book, Southland, set in Los Angeles in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. In The Age of Dreaming, she goes earlier to the era of silent film.
Jun Nakayama was a (fictional) silent film star in the early days of Hollywood. He emigrated from Japan as a young man and through a combination of hard work, self-assurance, a passion for acting, and plenty of luck, wound up as a contracted actor to one of the first film studios. He rose to star status, fame, and riches. Then suddenly in 1922, he vanished from the scene.
As the book opens he is an older man living alone, friendless, and devoted to his simple routines. When he is contacted by a young journalist who is writing an article about the opening of a Silent Movie Theater in 1964, he begins to look back on his early life for the first time in years. His recollections tell the story.
Jun is an unreliable narrator because he choose to ignore what was going on around him during his career. He turned an unaware eye on the sexual orientation of his favorite director and denied the growing racism toward the Japanese living in California, while he remained oblivious to the love of his best Japanese friend. As he uncovers what he had hidden from himself for all those years the increasing emotional tension drives the story. An unsolved murder in 1922, just before Jun left the movie world provides a mystery.
The writing is restrained but elegiac and reminded me of Kazuo Ishiguro and Chang Rae Lee, both of whom are of partial Japanese descent as is Ms Revoyr. I was also put in mind of Glen David Gold's Sunnyside, an excellent novel built around the life of Charlie Chaplin.
The Tiny Book Club met at Musso and Franks, a historic Hollywood restaurant, to discuss this gem of a book. It happened to be the day after Leonard Nimoy died and when we exited the restaurant we found a small crowd of locals and tourists gathering around Nimoy's Hollywood Star in the sidewalk, laying flowers and saying goodbye to another fallen star.
(The Age of Dreaming is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)