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When She Sleeps
by Leora Krygier

Category: Fiction / Literary
205 pages; ISBN: 1592640869

Rating: 10/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Judith Woolcock Colombo


At the end of "The Interpretation of Dreams", Freud concludes that our dreams give us knowledge of our past, from which they are derived. They also foretell our future because they are our wishes, which we picture as fulfilled dreams. Dreams merge our past with our present and future. They are the portals to our souls.

In "When She Sleeps", Leora Krygier explores the world of dreams. She uses the dreamscape as a vehicle to unite her main characters. In this beautifully written novel the author tells the story of two teenage sisters, separated by war and culture, who journey toward each other through their dreams.

The novel begins with Mai’s story, one of loss and regret. After living in poverty in the Vietnam countryside, the Amerasian teenager returns to the ruined city of Saigon with her mother Linh and her grandmother Thanh. Once in the city, Linh asks a reluctant Mai to promise never to call her mother again. Linh, a linguist, understands the power of words, and she no longer wishes to assume the responsibility the word “mother’ implies. To Mai this is just another theft in a long line of thefts. The Vietnam War has stolen both her father and home from her, and now she has also lost her mother.

In an attempt to heal herself, Mai searches for her father, who in the chaos of the American evacuation left her and her mother behind, promising to return. Not finding her father on the streets of Saigon or even at the hotel where her parents used to meet, she enters her mother’s dreams. By invading and stealing these dreams, the lonely teenager attempts to know her mad mother and discover her absent father. Finally, she reaches out to her American sister.

Lucy, the American sister, lives a life filled with middle class comfort that is at first glance the opposite of Mai’s, but she is also lonely and unable to sleep in a house filled with her parent’s discontent. She escapes at first into her darkroom where she experiments with the images she has captured with her camera. Soon she will learn to sleep, and in her dreamscape she will discover new images, some sent to her by her sister and others part of her mother’s past.

Eventually the sisters meet when Mai finally arrives in L.A. They have come full circle. Now it is the younger sister who, having lost her mother has also lost her ability to sleep and dream. In the meantime, Lucy has rediscovered both her mother and her dreams.

I found it interesting that Mai was not cured of her sleeplessness by her father, now a prominent sleep expert, but by Evelyn, his wife. Evelyn betrayed by her husband’s infidelity and the knowledge that he had wanted to abandon her and Lucy for Linh and Mai, transcends this to become the mother Mai needs. She returns Mai’s dreams to her with care and understanding.

"When She Sleeps" is a masterful story of love, betrayal, and forgiveness that holds the reader’s attention until the very end. The characters are three-dimensional beings that we can pity, sympathize with, like or dislike. Their lives matter to us, and that is the sign of a well-crafted tale.

Judith Woolcock Colombo: Author of The Fablesinger & Night Crimes
(Night Crimes is now in e-book format available from the publisher .)
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