Tale of the Dreamer’s Son
Skin is thicker than blood
In what was once a Scottish tea planter’s mansion in the highlands of Peninsular Malaysia, all religions are one and race is unheard of. That is, until the occupants of what is now known as the Muhibbah Centre for World Peace are joined by Salmah, a Malay Muslim woman. “All are welcome here,” they are reminded by their spiritual leader, Cyril Dragon, who is trying to ignore news of the changing political climate with its increasing religious intolerance. He is still trying to forget May 13, 1969, when ethnic tensions boiled over into bloodshed. Tale of the Dreamer’s Son guides us from that fateful incident in Malaysian history to the present day. Throughout, Samarasan’s polyphonic, rambunctious prose brilliantly navigates the tug-of-war between ideals and reality.
Preeta Samarasan was born in Malaysia and moved to the United States during high school. Her first novel, Evening Is the Whole Day, was longlisted … Read more
Book Club Questions
- What did you enjoy most about Tale of the Dreamer’s Son?
- Have you had any experience with a tightknit religious community in your life? If so, did you recognize anything?
- Do you agree with Cyril’s “be the change” approach? Should he perhaps have invested all that energy into politics or activism instead?
- Are all the community members as idealistic? If not, why do you think they’re there?
- Was the death of the Muhibbah Centre for World Peace self-inflicted, or were they hit by forces outside of their control?
- Why did Leo commit suicide?
- What was Reza thinking that night? Do you think he knew what Leo might have done?
- What did Leo and Reza’s homosexuality mean to Kannan, if anything?
- Reza goes through something of a spiritual transformation soon after they all return to the city. Is the change in Kannan as radical?
- And is Salmah’s turn to the national religion a radical break with her past approach to life?
- What do you make of Kannan’s profession? Does it suit him?
- As a private tutor, does Kannan still let some of his opposition to the rise of the narrow nationalist identity shine through?
- What does the ending mean to you?
- The book is ambitious in its attempt to capture a diverse nation, its recent history, and possibly its future. If you are not Malaysian, did it at any point remind you of political or social issues in your own country?
- Do you feel like you got to know Malaysia, if you didn’t know the country somewhat already?
- Would you be interested in reading more from Preeta Samarasan?
Praise for Tale of the Dreamer’s Son
“Samarasan (Evening Is the Whole Day) sets a fearless and complex family saga against the social and political upheaval of modern-day Malaysia. 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.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Tale of the Dreamer’s Son is a riveting, painful, funny read from the author of the powerful Evening Is the Whole Day. I’d been waiting for this book. Nobody writes like Preeta Samarasan. Through astute characterization, sheer drama, evocative settings, superb prose, and blended language, Samarasan draws me into all the deep questions that rattle the foundations of her beloved Malaysia. I love this book in many ways, for the storytelling, for the music in her writing, for the images, but also for how it reminds me of how issues in Malaysia continue to mirror ours in Nigeria and many other parts of the world. What a fantastic, fantastic book!”
UWEM AKPAN, author of Say You’re One of Them and New York, My Village
“Politics, religion, culture and love collide on every page of Preeta Samarasan’s new novel. At once furious and funny, majestic and intimate, Tale of the Dreamer’s Son is an ode to the glorious and complex mess that is Malaysia.”
“Samarasan continues to be a wonder, a wryly vibrant, passionately astute chronicler of recent Malaysian history.”
PETER HO DAVIES
Praise for Evening Is the Whole Day
“An impressive debut. The language bursts with energy, and Samarasan has a sure hand juggling so many distinct characters.”
“A strong, spirit-spiked story about caste and unfairness, as furious, controlled, cool and urgent as Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger and an introduction to a writer whose talent with narrative structure combines elegance and potency.”
“This is a claustrophobic novel of one family’s emotional failure. Samarasan’s inventive prose is stunning.”
“Extraordinarily incisive, Samarasan provocatively links the sorrows of one distraught family to Malaysia’s bloody conflicts in a surpassingly wise and beautiful debut novel about the tragic consequences of the inability to love.”
“Preeta Samarasan’s passionate, striking book, stunned with light and heat, is full of the memory of enchantment and the enchantment of memory. Samarasan cultivates with brilliance the taut battle between the public and familial being, and the hidden and fragile inner self, trapped in a world of myth and mystery.”
SUSANNA MOORE, author of The Big Girls
“A wonderfully engaging novel, poignant yet comical, about the contradictions and hazards inherent in a modern, postcolonial world.”
M. G. VASSANJI, author of The In-Between World of Vikram Lall
“Rich, quirky, and colorful. Evening Is the Whole Day captures not just the sense of a family struggling to deal with its past, but the crazy uncertainty of a country coming to terms with itself.”
TASH AW, author of The Harmony Silk Factory
“Samarasan captures beautifully the conflict both within the family and the country during the early years of Malaysia’s independence. Vibrant, descriptive, and peppered with colourful Indian-Malaysian dialogue, this is an epic that’s informative without being wordy, and engrossing but not frivolous.”
FRANCESCA SEGAL, The Observer
“You won’t find India’s heat and dust here; you will sense the moist warmth of South-East Asia. Samarasan represents the quiet emergence of new Malaysian writing in books such as Rani Manicka’s The Rice Mother and Touching Earth, Tash Aw’s The Harmony Silk Factory, and Tan Twan Eng’s Booker-longlisted The Gift of Rain last year. These writers have significantly broadened our understanding of the region.”
SALIL TRIPATHI, The Independent
“A richly complex debut, weaving the troubled Malaysia of the 1980s with a dark, delicious Dickensian family drama.”
Waterstones Books Quarterly
“A magical, exuberant tragic-comic vision of post-colonial Malaysia reminiscent of Rushdie and Roy. In prose of acrobatic grace, Samarasan conjures a vibrant portrait, by turns intimate and sweeping, of characters and a country coming of age. The debut of a significant, and thrilling new talent.”
PETER HO DAVIES, author of The Welsh Girl
“An accomplished and magical debut.”
New Books Magazine
“Preeta Samarasan details the colourful and secretive lives of the Rajeskhrans, a wealthy Indian immigrant family. She keeps us guessing as the secrets that led to the family’s relocation are slowly revealed.”
Why You Should Read This Book
“This book was born out of a lifetime of thinking about children who are unwilling or unaware participants in their parents’ spiritual quests. I myself grew up among adults who seemed often to be looking for the answers to life’s big questions. For a few years when I was a small child, my parents belonged to the Sai Baba movement, which, though Indian in origin, brought together ethnic Indians and ethnic Chinese in my hometown, Ipoh, in Malaysia. My hazy memories of those prayer meetings, and of the inevitable friction between ideals and human relationships, provided some of the colour and texture of this novel. As I grew older, I began to ask myself questions about what religion provides and how we make of it what we need at any given time. I wondered if it might ever have been possible for anyone to invent a spiritual movement that Malaysians needed (or believed they needed) at one of the most painful times in their history. As the primary sociopolitical challenge in Malaysia has always been racial unity, my “what if?” thought experiment led me to the Muhibbah Centre, to the sundry seekers who might form such a community, and to their children.”
PREETA SAMARASAN, the author
“Years ago, I visited Malaysia and was impressed by its exuberant nature and intrigued by its cultural and religious diversity. Reading Preeta Samarasan’s novel gave me a deeper understanding of the country’s post-colonial struggles, as reflected here in the group dynamics of a community of idealists trying to live together in peace but having a hard time overcoming their differences and mutual envy. Samarasan’s writing was a big discovery for me. I was blown away by her beautiful, powerful, and compelling storytelling.”
JUDITH UYTERLINDE, the publisher