Book Review: Strangers With the Same Dream

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“They had left their lives as they knew them to turn the Balfour Declaration, and the idea of a homeland for the Jews, into truth. They were strangers with the same dream.”

Strangers With the Same Dream is another CanLit title I anticipate seeing on the Giller Prize Longlist this year. (Side note: The Giller Jury met this weekend to choose their Longlist – that announcement is being made September 18th.) I read Alison Pick’s Far to Go in 2011 when it was first released and I feel Strangers With the Same Dream is her best yet. While this is strange and dreamlike at times, I was drawn more to this story over the one in Far to Go (although that one is very good as well!)

There are three perspectives, with each telling the same events, but through their own eyes. Eyes which hold their own secrets, misgivings and context. All three perspectives remain loose and fluid however, all don’t come to a neat and tidy conclusion, but maybe this is to show that not all in their quest for their utopian dream is neat and tidy at all. Instead, it is harsh, political, a mix of personalities and fraught with tragedy and difficulty.

However, there is also this 4th perspective. It is this one that lends a Book Thief / The Lovely Bones feeling to this book. In the striking Prologue this dead person/ghost outlines what we’re going to be reading, with its electrifying first sentence: “This story begins with a lie.” This yet to be named ghost inserts herself (it is apparent early on it is a female voice) sparingly throughout the three frames of reference and it one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It gave this story that extra oomph and interest.

“I look down at Ida. I wish I could warn her. What she was living then was the happiest moment. The moment before things went wrong.”

Part One is Ida’s story. Ida has a heartbreaking tale and reason for travelling with the other Halutzes to their Eretz Yisrael. Her mother has trusted her with the family heirloom candlesticks. Beautiful and important, Ida hides them when the leader of the halutz wants them to turn over every valuable for the good of the community. Their history, how Ida came to be with this community does not allow her to do such a thing. She is wracked with guilt about it. She becomes lovestruck over the young and idealistic Levi. At one point, Ida is trusted with the leader’s daughter to watch over for the day and a seemingly harmless accident happens to the little girl that will end in tragedy. Ida’s perspective is a young and naive one – we see the kibbutz through her young and naive eyes in this first section. She is confused and hurt that while it was proclaimed at the start that they would not follow religious days, she cannot help but feel blasphemous when they do not honour Yom Kippur, but do celebrate Rosh Hoshannah. These dichotomies are confusing and hurtful for her.

Next is the leader of the group, David. Simply put, David is a tool. He is a wannabe leader, jealous of others, and has great difficulty keeping it in his pants. Because of this, the community is falling apart, there is no real leadership, no true direction and his lustful infatuation for the beautiful Sarah is distracting him from focusing on the starvation, sickness and discord wracking the group. They are unraveling and David is not leading this group, neglecting everyone and everything in order to chase Sarah’s skirt.

Until you settle into the framework that Pick is using to tell this story, there is a small amount of confusion, or repetition. When you see that we’re seeing the same event, but through a different set of eyes, the story begins to flow freely again. I don’t think you’ll appreciate or like David much however.

Finally, we hear from Hannah, David’s wife. Hannah is the strong one. She’s fierce, knowing and critical. She is the one to bring this story to its close, but perhaps best to offer up the best perspective of the tragedies, difficulties and outrageous mess their lives have become because of this dream to settle their Eretz Yisrael.

In closing, the ghost returns to explain, “Now I’ve told you my story; you are the ones who know the truth. I wait to be released, to go where the others went. To be released, though, will not change my past. I can see that from here.” 

This may not seem to be a completely tied up ending however. It remains loose and dreamlike, like the whole story feels overall. I enjoyed it, was compelled to reading it always and I cannot imagine it will not make the Giller judges’ longlist? We have a few more weeks for that reveal though!

4 stars.