Friday, June 13, 2008

The Twelve Dreams of Laima

by Lee Cross
(Virginia City Publishing: Cauldron of Dreams Books / 0-978-75961-3 / 978-0-978-75961-2 / September 2000 / 244 pages / $13.95)
Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM
The Twelve Dreams of Laima is a dreamy, mystical odyssey through history, told though the lives of twelve different people. All but one are incarnations, previous lives of the same man, Art Zemaitis, a professor of history with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. His quest for insights into history leads him from America, back to his native Lithuania, on a folklore research project to interview that handful of rural elderly who retain some knowledge of the old ways. He finds the old woman named Laima, living in an ancient old-growth forest in a tiny wattle and daub hut. Who is Laima and what is she to Art? That she is someone of significance and possesses mysterious powers is plain – but what is she to him, personally?

As it turns out, she has the ability to grant him his deepest wish. “More than anything, I crave to know what it was like in times gone by.” He tells her – and to his astonishment she calmly replies that she has the ability to help him do this, to embark on a voyage of discovery, of all his past lives.

Each chapter tells of one of those lives, hop-scotching across time and the new and old worlds, through lives that are sometimes happy, long and successful as their world counts such things, and sometimes short and ending suddenly in fire, violence and war. In several lives Art lived as a woman: a priestess of Cybele in ancient times, as a medieval woman accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, and in his most significant but shortest incarnation, a little girl in modern America. More usually he is a man and frequently a warrior of some sort: a prince of the Goths, a sailor on the USS Arizona in 1941, an Australian bush-ranger, a warrior chief of the Scythians, a refugee Druid from Roman-era Britain, a Confederate blockage runner, a soldier in the American Revolution, or a Special Forces soldier in Vietnam. Each of these chapter-episodes is a tiny, condensed novel unto itself, reduced to its essence of experience in a world quite violently different from each of the others – and yet each would make a satisfactory novel itself if expanded to full length. But that is not the authors’ purpose, and Laima’s purpose does not come clear, until the last of Art’s lives is lived and ends – and that is a twist that the reader may not see coming.

Mr. Cross’s prose is lyrical and precise, suitable to each character in his or her time and place. Any criticism I may make is limited to noting that the transition as Art moves between his past lives and his present one are sometimes awkwardly devised, as the narration jumping abruptly between first person and third. This is especially noted in the first couple of pages – perhaps the first person narration was meant to be in italics?
Celia's Blogger News Review
The Author's Website
Review of Lee Cross's Pandemonium in 2012
Review of Lee Cross's A Far Place in Time

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