The Society of Reluctant Dreamers, Eduardo Jose Agualusa, Archipelago Books, 2020, 264 pp (originally published in 2017, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn)
This novel was as amazing as it was treacherous. Once I figured out it was set in the African country, Angola, and once I did some research into that country's horrific history and horrendous struggle for independence from European colonizers (mainly Portuguese but also all the major colonizers of the 19th century) then at least it was located for me. I understood why the Angolan author wrote it in Portuguese.
The other challenge was the story of Daniel and his dream lover Moira. When the book opens, Daniel has just been divorced by his wife of many years. He is a journalist; she is descended from a family who collaborated with the Portuguese. His daughter has stayed with her conservative mother, but is just as radical as Daniel.
Daniel dreams. He writes down his dreams as though he were reporting the news.
"I woke very early. Through the narrow windows, I saw long black birds fly past. I'd dreamed about them. It was as though they had leaped from my dream up into the sky, a damp piece of dark-blue tissue paper, with bitter mold growing in the corners."
The above is the opening paragraph of the book. It is a modern novel set in an extremely foreign place. The fight for Angolan independence took at least half a century and the current ruling party as well as its President, though Angolan, are an unstable oligarchy dealing in repression of freedoms.
Eventually Daniel's daughter lands in prison for demonstrating against the government. She is only about 18 years old but leads a hunger strike from within the prison! By this time Daniel has met an old soldier from the wars for independence who is half mad from his experiences.
The two men spend hours together and share the dreams they have had the night before. Enter Moira, an artist from Mozambique, who stages her dreams in her artwork. All of the dreamers seem to merge into a collective unconscious, while Daniel works to get his daughter out of prison. In that way they seek to unravel the lives they have lived and the political reality of their country.
I just had to let go of any preconceived notions I harbor, knowingly or unknowingly, and enter the dream state that constitutes the basis of Jose Eduardo Agualusa's writing. Truthfully, it was not hard to do so. Life in America has become so surreal. What, after all, are happiness, freedom, love, goals? For what do we fight as human beings?
Like Daniel and his daughter, the old soldier and Moira, we yearn for happiness, freedom, love and achievable goals. Sometimes we get those dreams. Sometimes we get nightmares, awake or asleep.