Amidst identity and navigating parental relations, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “Queen of Dreams” is a novel that should not be overlooked. Rakhi, a young artist and former Chai house owner as well as divorced mother, is working to navigate through her life, primarily after she loses her mother. While she does so, she faces challenges within her own family and from her ex Sonny, trying to make sense of how to cope, how to deal with her own relationships and the impending disasters of her business.
Rakhi’s mother is a dream teller, born in India. She was supposed to train, never to give others the secrets of her life, and there to help those she dreamed of. The narrative switches points of view, and within the memories of Rakhi’s mother, the reader gets to see a world of culture as well as a woman who is struggling with her identity. While dealing with her mother’s death, she discovers her dream journals, learning more about her mother then when she had been alive.
Growing up, Rakhi tries to cling to her mother, yet their relationship is fragmented. Her mother works tirelessly by being a dream teller, her own health effected through it all, and Rakhi had wished for the same life at one point. One of the more reviving features of this novel is Rakhi’s ability to capture how she feels, to show the reader that she had felt so fragmented at times, primarily from her father that her relationship became awkward.
Divakaruni does well to make us think about our own culture as well as our distance from it. Rakhi never grew up in India. The India she knows is the one her mother doesn’t share too often, never going into details about her experiences and Rakhi only gets to see the details in her mother’s dream journals. Rakhi’s paintings “had been about India—an imagined India, an India researched from photographs because she’d never traveled there” (Page 11). And even though Rakhi tries so hard to create an image of India she can never quite match to the real one, the development of her character leaves the reader mesmerized.
Instead of having to follow a path, the reader gets to see Rakhi grow. She doesn’t need to achieve traveling to her homeland in order to feel whole. She has to go through various trials and tribulations that shape her perceptions and help her grow.
The novel also plays on race, bringing to the forefront how racism as well as prejudice works against those who are not primarily seen as white Americas. The novel does this by taking place during 9/11, revealing an attack on Rakhi’s shop and the “Americans” who claimed she was a terrorist due to her skin color. The traumatic experience had her question who she was and if she truly fit in the country after such a traumatic event.
Although the instances in the novel may be uncomfortable, the questioning of identity in terms of race is one people need to realize is out there. The novel explores race, identity and relationships in a way that is memorable and deliberate.
“Queen of Dreams” is 354 pages long, published in 2004, and can currently be checked out from the Burrage Library or purchased through Amazon.