The Conspiracies of Dreams

The Conspiracies of DreamsAuthor: Sandra Biber Didner
Publisher: Inkwater Press (2012)
Number of Pages: 201
How long it took me to read: 2 weeks
Where I bought this book: Uncustomary Book Submission
ISBN: 978-1-59299-784-8

Like a Moth to a Flame

I’m not a very political person. This isn’t to say that I don’t have opinions, but I tend to avoid political discussions because I’ve seen the damage they do to relationships when they get too heated. I don’t have a lot of people in my life with whom I feel I can safely broach controversial topics, and it’s more important to me to maintain friendships then to spread the political gospel of Rachelism to the ignorant masses. However, I think fiction holds great potential for the discussion of political ideas, especially if it presents them in their original historical context. Fiction allows the examination of important ideas through a personal lens that is absent in traditional academia, and I hope that personal perspective is what I’m going to find in The Conspiracies of Dreams by Sandra Biber Didner.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “Two people want the same land. They greet each other with a word that means ‘peace’ and all they feel for each other is loathing.” (p.78)

4. “I hear the angel Israfil blowing his trumpet. It is the end of the world.” (p.28)

3. “What in hell am I doing to this girl? What am I doing for Egypt? Betrayal is a two-edged sword. It is morally exhausting and immorally demanding. Traitors are always unfaithful to the trusting. Always faithful to a code that demands duplicity.” (p.90)

2. “How would you feel if you could make no decisions for yourself? Your destiny has been decided for you, your way of life is rigidly prescribed, and you have no free will. If you deviate in any way, the spirit of the Lord will forsake you. Are you defiant, resentful, resigned, or accepting?” (p.66)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Her great, tortured capital, Jerusalem, which, ironically, means the ‘City of Peace,’ has seen more wars than possibly any other area in the world. Site of the Dome of the Rock, The Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, this city is sacred to the three great monotheistic creeds. But no people, no matter how hard they try, can possess her or Israel entirely and eternally, holy promises notwithstanding. Omar and I survey this sliver of barren sand which has inspired people to achieve the highest of ethical ideals and we scheme, as so many millions have before us, to capture this land of milk and honey, grape and olive, water and desert.” (p.14)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: sabra (noun)

Definition (Source: Merriam Webster): a native-born Israeli
Origins: Modern Hebrew ‘sabhār’, literally, prickly pear
As in: “He thinks she was a sabra who died while fighting for her country. His illusions sustain him.” (p.188)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“I’m a little surprised by the use of Caananite deities as characters in their own right. It makes sense that the main characters get their own chapters, even that the Biblical characters get their own chapters, but a pagan fertility goddess? She seems to be a mostly background character, a dying animal observing a once beloved homeland, wondering why her people have abandoned her. It’s an interesting facet, but I’m not sure how it plays into the rest of the story. The main conflict here is the tension among the major monotheistic faiths as they converge and reconverge on the land that is now called Israel and its city, Jerusalem. Christianity also seems to be taking a back seat, the focus being primarily on Judaism and Islam. Perhaps Didner is trying to suggest the subtle influence that the original peoples that lived in that land in ancient times had on modern day, even the pagan ones?

“I know that paganism still takes a large role in cultural practices, even among Christians, though some Christians go so far as to reject these practices for that very reason. There are Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s more rooted in the ancient Roman celebration Saturnalia and the druidic tree worship of the Teutons than the birth of Christ. But those remnants have long been separated from their origins. I don’t celebrate Christmas to show reverence for pine trees; I see it as an opportunity to go see my parents and eat my mother’s famous party potatoes. However, I’ll admit that spending the holidays with my family are some of my greatest memories. If that’s a gift from my pagan roots, I’ll take it.”

“Didner wastes no time in drawing parallels between the main characters and certain Biblical stories. I mean, right off the bat, we have two characaters named Isaac and Rebecca who are rehearsing Milton’s Samson Agonistes as the play’s lead roles, Samson and Delilah. Perhaps the book was written for people who didn’t go to Bible school every Sunday for the first eighteen years of their lives, but I’m finding the presentation of the character parallels heavy-handed. I would have preferred a bit more subtlety and the chance to have an ‘Aha!’ moment of my own.

“The parallels themselves are fascinating, however, because I think it goes back to this idea of how we as people tell the same stories over and over, not only in the books we write and the poems we recite but also in the way we live our lives. I’m enjoying the way Didner presents the Abraham-Sarah-Hagar dynamic in such an emotional, almost petty, but very human way. The snipes, the angst, the hope—it’s hard to form the essential empathy when reading the passages concerning these characters straight from the religious text. Sarah’s barreness plays into my own fears of infertility, and her laughter at the birth of her son puts a flutter of hope in my chest. The social trap that Hagar falls into revives my insecurities about rejection and the tension that comes between personal and cultural expectations. These women feel real to me now in a way that eighteen years of Bible school never felt.”

“So, I think the intention of this novel was to give a personal twist to historical and religious events. It uses the first person and switches between different perspectives of characters with radically different backgrounds to give a more balanced view. Unfortunately, the intention is sorely undermined by all the characters speaking in exactly the same voice. It’s as if the novel was originally written with the characters speaking in Hebrew and Arabic and then all the nuance was lost when it was translated into English. Since that personal twist was the main thing I wanted to get from this book, I’m pretty disappointed. The way characters communicate with one another and the reader is extremely important to me.

“I’ll say this: voice is one of the hardest aspects to develop in writing, especially in fiction where you not only have to develop your own voice as narrator but also the voice of your characters. But without well-developed voices, the characters are less believable, and it’s difficult for me to take any interest in their fates. There’s a lot of good historical information in this novel, however, and it is easier to absorb that information in the form of a story rather than as a list of facts marching out of a textbook. The author did a meticulous amount of research, which is laudable in and of itself.”

“The book closes on an ambiguous note. Betrayal, how we define it and how it infiltrates our lives, is a constant thread through the novel. Conspiracies of Dreams is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet if the star-crossed lovers never tried to run off together and if, rather than being from warring families, they were kept apart by warring nations and cultures. Who do you betray—your sweetheart or your country? The love of your life or your religion and your God? No matter what you pick, there’ll be guilt. There’ll be regret. To think otherwise is building a castle in the clouds. The novel makes it clear that such a decision is never easy and never ends happily, but I’m glad it doesn’t try too hard to say what the right decision would be. It’s more likely that there isn’t one.

“However, to be frank, I’m not a huge fan of Romeo and Juliet plots. I guess I’m just too practical for that. I don’t believe that people just fall into epic romances, especially people with entirely separate cultures and belief systems. I think people fall into infatuations, and that’s not something for which I would give up my entire world. I don’t think that epic romance should be defined by what two people are willing to give up for each other. It should be what two people give to one another. Romantic relationships, particularly marriages, are about creating something wondrous together, and I don’t think Ishmael stood a chance at doing that with Rebecca. You still have to be able to agree on what wondrous means.”

Rachel Castleberg

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