Dragonfly Dreams by Jennifer J. Chow will be an eye-opening opportunity in cultural education for Western readers new to Asian culture or the hybrid culture that grows as immigrants deal with their new adopted culture. Our main character is Topaz. Her job as a narrator is limited by the fact that she dies on Page One while giving birth. During a brief period of ascent just after dying, Topaz is offered a choice between two paths to follow. She has no idea of what to do until the appearance of Sage who lets her know that one path leads to an end and the other path leads to a beginning. The path on the right will allow her to be with her family temporarily but she must choose how long. Topaz wants to see her daughter grow up and decides ten years, a decade, will be fine.
Topaz gets her wish with a condition. For each of the ten years, Topaz must choose one commandment out of ten. Jasper (the daughter) will be controlled, through Topaz, by the chosen commandment for one year, after which a second commandment will be chosen. Sage will appear for a short period of time as each commandment is assigned to make sure Topaz knows what to do. Topaz spends time in reflection before agreeing as she watches her family’s reaction to the birth of an unwanted (boys are better) child. What will become of Jasper as she is raised by the mother-in-law, Sally? Why doesn’t Mung, mother of Topaz, raise Jasper? How is Mill, the father of baby Jasper and wife of the recently passed Topaz, involved in the child’s life? Who is Fillmore and why is his final word law?
The answers to the questions come in part from Chinese culture and in part from Chinese immigrant workers who do not want their culture to disappear. The improbably named Fillmore rules as the patriarch of the family and demands unquestioning obedience in all things. Sally, his wife and mother-in-law to Topaz determines Jasper’s future. It is her right as the matriarch of the ruling family. Mung, mother to Topaz has all the rights Sally is willing to give. Sally never asserts herself and delegates no rights without the approval of husband Fillmore. The dead Topaz must exert her influence through ghostly intervention and, with the help of spirit adviser Sage, fashion a good life for Jasper.
Chapters One through Three give us the background to the story. Notable is Chapter Three with its explanation of the Red Egg and Ginger party. The party takes place one month after a child’s birth and introduces the child to the community. For me, this was nostalgia as I recalled the party held for three of my children. (I adopted other children and was not present for their parties).
Chapter Four will present the first commandment, Shedding the Past. The novel will then continue through 156 pages to present the other nine rules and the forms of their implementation in twenty-eight chapters. I will comment only on Chapter Four as an example of what happens throughout the novel. The first commandment offered by Sage was “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Kindle location 404). Topaz was to tell Sage how a boundary or rule could be set that would cause Jasper to obey this commandment. Topaz thought of porcelain gods adorning special places in restaurants and Chinese public buildings. She thought of ancestor worship and annual rituals, such as sweeping the family graves, to acknowledge ancestors. Topaz proposed that her daughter, Jasper, would not participate in ancestor worship. Sage approved. This was the first experience with rules and Topaz had not thought it through. If Jasmine (the improbable boy’s name, Jasper, had been modified) could not perform ancestor worship, how could Jasmine honor her mother, Topaz?
These types of stories will accompany each rule as Sage presents the new rule for interpretations by Topaz. She will have a simpler way of expressing the rule. But this is like the story of presenting wishes to a Genie. The requests must be very carefully phrased, or requesters will get more than they bargained for.
Other than making requests and monitoring Jasmine’s progress, Topaz pursues her desire to have an actual corporeal presence again. She would like others to see her. She would like to be able to move objects and touch people. Sage would never be part of this but not all spirits are benevolent. Some foster strife, jealousy and anger simply because they want to watch how humans react. These spirits will appear to tempt Topaz. If she helps them, they will help Topaz achieve her goals. There is a time when Topaz will seem to lose her way and respond to voices that are not always in the service of good. Will she be able to recover, to make her family whole again? Will she be able to return to this life for a second round? Read this well-told story to find out.
I gave this novel four Amazon stars. The writing style is engaging and will interest a younger group of readers who like magic, fantasy, and nice endings. Readers will also have an opportunity to review the Ten Commandments. This is my third review this year. So far, all my choices have been safe as far as language related to sex and violence. The stories did not need those elements to be interesting. Maybe 2019 will turn out better than I predicted.