Strangers with the Same Dream

Books that hint at unhappy endings and contain the menace of bad choices are a struggle for me. Anxiety peaks at the first hint that things are going to unravel. I put the book down. I wander around the kitchen for a snack. I pick the book back up because not knowing is worse. I always want a happy ending. I know this is not realistic. But choices people! Make good choices!

Alison Pick’s Strangers with the Same Dream contains constant hints of horrors and disappointments to come, and characters ruminate introspectively on the different paths they could have taken. It doesn’t even start optimistically. It starts: This story begins with a lie.

What good can come of this? Consider the situation. The novel is set in 1921 when a group of Jewish pioneers founds a settlement in what will eventually become Israel. The settlers have already suffered in their previous homelands and carry their traumas with them. They bring their optimism too, their commitment to creating a new homeland for their people.

Pick doesn’t wade too far into politics and keeps her focus narrowly on the characters. The reader doesn’t need to pick sides between the two nations or take a strong stance on who is wrong and who is right in any given situation. However, there is plenty of opportunity to pick sides between the three main characters and their individual missteps.

There is Ida, whose silly naivety can’t help but get her mixed up in things. There is David, the charismatic womanizer, and his wife Hannah, who is saddled with responsibility she didn’t expect.

The story is told in three parts from three different points of view. This was painful for me, because from my high, lofty place above the pages, I saw how assumptions lead down dark paths. Some of the assumptions between characters border on absurd when you know what was happening from another perspective.

It’s a great reminder that we should never assume what is going on with other people. The complete picture is hard to see. And maybe that’s how we should always think about conflicts and difficult histories—there is alway another point of view, another assumption, another choice, another perspective impacting the complete story.

Alison Pick was at events 47 (Dreams and Nightmares), 71 (Plentiful Portraits) and 80 (Ghosts and Spirits) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.

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