What Makes Dreams Possible?
Which is sharper, the hatchet that cuts down dreams? Or the scythe that makes way for another?
This is Haven Jock for the HPPR Radio Readers 2023 Spring Book Club discussing The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sis, which is based on the childhood of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize winner for poetry in 1971, largely considered one of the most highly read poets in the world.
Neruda was not only a poet, but a diplomat, senator, and political activist who fervently believed that every individual should be able to pursue that which brings them passion.
He is often considered the national poet of Chile, and when reading his work, it is easy to see why. Neruda often wrote about common objects and pieces of nature, but believed that each were infused with the life and energy of all who touched and viewed them, carrying this universal story within.
This is evident in the book, which tells the tale of Neftali, a young boy from Chile who begins to answer a mysterious calling. Told in a mixture of poetry, prose, and whimsical illustrations, The Dreamer plays with the pages to tell its story, making use of unconventional formats, onomatopoeia, and a good dash of magical realism to fully capture the impressive imagination of a young, shy, sickly boy.
Under the thumb of their controlling, abusive father, Neftali and his siblings struggle to express themselves. Even so, the imaginative boy finds joy in the natural world around him, wondering at the colors of the minutes or the song of the wind. Through connections with strangers, kind librarians and their books, and the often secret support of those he loves, Neftali is able to grow and learn and develop a sense of passion for words that can finally get out the feelings he has always had within.
Despite the opposition he faces from his father as well as parts of his community, he is eventually able to outgrow the voiceless child he was and leaves his childhood home to pursue his dreams, writing under the alias Pablo Neruda. While the details of the book are fiction, many of the major events and emotions within them were very real, captured in Neruda's own autobiography and poetry.
Ryan and Sis manage to infuse the delicate and ethereal wonder for wordplay and the earth into every line, making for a quick and fun read that still carries the weight of Neruda’s oppressive childhood home, and the tense political climate at the time. Though Neftali endures so much pain, from bullies at school to his own father, the overarching sense you get from the story is one of hope. Hope for the future, hope for change, the green ink that the real Neruda used to write with because he believed it was the very color of that feeling.
This book takes you along on the journey from frail boy to outspoken man, and it is one train ride I would happily take again.
To finish, I would like to share with you a sample of Neruda’s work, from his poem Forget About Me:
“Let us look for secret things somewhere in the world, on the blue shores of silence, or where the storm has passed, rampaging like a train. There the faint signs are left, coins of time and water, debris, celestial ash, and the irreplaceable rapture of sharing in the labor of solitude and the sand.”