(Reviewed by Kam Aures APR 20, 2003)"I was sixteen when I first asked to see photos of Werner's Syndrome patients, the hawklike nose, gray, thin hair, the ulcers and cataracts." These are the words of Hana, a thirty-eight year old Italian-Japanese-American with Werner's Syndrome, or as she prefers to call it, Werner. Werner is a disease that makes a person age at twice the rate of a healthy individual: at thirty-eight Hana has the appearance of an eighty-year old. Trapped inside her aching, ill body, Hana's mind is still as sharp as ever which makes dealing with this disease all the more difficult.
Hana lives with her mother, Cate, in Daring, California. Cate awakens every morning and strains to hear if there are any sounds coming from Hana's room, dreading the day that she hears nothing. Hana's disease is worsening day by day and she requires a lot of care. When Cate is not nursing her daughter she retreats to her garden, which helps her to relax, and gives her time to think. When Cate is out tending the garden, Hana reads and writes letters.
Hana's Japanese-American father Max had passed away of a heart attack. Through flashbacks the stories of how Cate and Max met and the difficulties they endured as a mixed race couple in a small town are relived. We also learn about how Max and his family were unjustly taken to a Japanese internment camp called Heart Mountain in Wyoming and the hardships that they suffered as a result. In one of Cate's flashbacks, Max asks her; "You know what I dreamed of during all those years I spent at Heart Mountain? I dreamed of water." At the internment camp in the desert there was never enough water, which caused their skin to crack and flake. Cate remembered for the first time, a year after Max died, how he used to lick his lips in appreciation before drinking a glass of water.
A large part of the novel focuses on Hana's childhood friend Laura, whom she has not seen in ten years, since before the Werner surfaced. Laura lives in New York with her two children Josephine and Camille, who are thirteen and eleven years old respectively. They have kept in touch throughout the years through phone calls and letters and are still very close. However, every time Laura asks to come visit, Hana always comes up with an excuse as to why they should not come. "I haven't been feeling too well. That's become my stock answer to her whenever she wants to come and visit. I love her like a sister and I know I'm being selfish, or afraid, or both. I wouldn't know what to say to those beautiful young girls, whose shock I can already see in their eyes as they look me over. And how would it be to see dear Laura in the prime of her life?" Finally, Laura ignores Hana and decides to come and visit her anyway bringing along Josephine and Camille. When Laura and her children arrive, the strength of their bond of friendship is renewed and the effects are life lessons learned for everyone.
The story is told alternating between the eyes of all of the characters, which allows us to more intimately understand each individual's fear and emotions. The bonds between mother and daughter and the bonds of friendship are the main focus points of the story, and Gail Tsukiyama does an excellent job of portraying how strong and lasting these bonds are. Dreaming Water is a compelling, heart-breaking, yet heartwarming novel. The novel held my attention from the first page to the last and I read it in its entirety in one sitting. This is the first one of Gail Tsukiyama's novels that I have had the pleasure of reading and am definitely interested in reading her four other novels.
- Amazon readers rating: from 25 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Women of Silk (1991)
- The Samurai's Garden (1995)
- Night of Many Dreams (1998)
- The Language of Threads (1999)
- Dreaming Water (2002)
- The Street of a Thousand Blossoms (2007)
- A Hundred Flowers (2012)
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- Literi page on Gail Tsukiyama
- Printed Matter on Gail Tsukiyama
- BookReporter.com review of Women of Silk
- Reading Guide for Dreaming Water
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About the Author:
Gail Tsukiyama was born in San Francisco, California to a Chinese mother from Hong Kong and a Japanese father from Hawaii. She attended San Francisco State University where she received both her Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Master of Arts Degree in English with the emphasis in Creative Writing. Most of her college work was focused on poetry, and she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Award.
She lives in San Francisco where, in addition to writing fiction, she works as a university instructor, a freelance book reviewer and a judge for the Kiriyama Rim Book Prize.