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In a previous post, I noted that I’d read only around half a dozen books in 2020. I always have something interesting going on my Kindle, so I was surprised to count 2020’s take and find it apparently took two months to finish each book. So to make myself feel better, I’ll say it’s not because I’m a slow reader. It’s that I savored these works, the way books should be consumed. Yeah, that’s it. At least I found satisfying items worth adding to your queue. Today I feature one written by a woman to whom I’m vaguely connected, a connection without which I might not have come across this story.
The Mountain Dreamer: (Published September 2020, by Rachel A. Steffen) This fictionalized account of the author’s real childhood in a remote mountain village in Thailand appealed to me on several levels. First, the writer’s parents preceded my parents’ cohort of missionaries to Thailand, working there since the ’60s. I had heard stories of how the country was less tame back then, that elephants figured into one’s travel plans, and I wanted to find out more about that life. Second, I knew the writer’s parents. They were classic figures of my growing up years–surely everyone in the world knew this couple, whom we called “Uncle” and “Aunt.” Occasionally, their pictures came up on Facebook, and they still looked the same. Encountering them in a book would be an experience, and fill in blanks for me about their early work and life. I had never known this oldest daughter of theirs; this story explains why she went back to the States at fourteen. Third, it was about an American child’s view of Thailand, something to which I could relate, having grown up there myself.
This account did not disappoint. The writer uses fiction to vividly tell a story of her childhood years in simple surroundings with much-loved village friends, and of the rustic means of doing everything from baking cookies to arranging a long ride on elephants’ backs to find medical care. I was pleasantly surprised at how the tool of fiction gave the story smoothness and momentum. It was a fitting choice for this narrative, even though I would not (probably could not) have done it myself. I learned a great deal about Uncle D. and Aunt J. and their work in that rugged region, enough to admire them even more. And I was surprised that although the author’s village was across the country from where I started life, many of our experiences were similar. We both went to school where the instruction was in standard Thai (although I never witnessed any beatings at mine). The lifestyle of the villagers, down to the basic clay stoves they used, sounded similar. And the candles and kerosene lamps at nighttime–yes. I spent evenings in their glow too, when I was little.
At $2.99 on Kindle, this book is worth purchasing for an absorbing story of an American who felt that Northern Thailand was her real home.Published in