27 April, 2016

Smith's Dream by C.K. Stead

Ironically, it was the very first New Zealand novel I read after my arrival to the country I knew nothing about. I grabbed the book from a library shelf randomly, attracted by its small size and a local author’s name. It’s time to start learning about the place I wish I could call home one day, I thought. I was then and still am absolutely convinced there is no better way to discover a new country than through reading its fiction.

From overseas, the land of the long white cloud, a green and sunlit island of laid-back people, seemed nothing but paradise, a realised utopia. You can now imagine my surprise, if not to say shock, when I discovered the book was a dystopian novel, a portrayal of a rather dark and horrifying world. Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury famously used the genre to show how far the tendencies of the times may lead the society.

I later learned that Smith’s Dream, the first novel by Stead, was written as a reaction to the Vietnam War in 1971. The book gained popularity within the country mostly by becoming the basis for the movie Sleeping Dogs by Roger Donaldson.

The main character, a librarian Smith, is left by his wife and goes to the Coromandel bush to hide away from his family crisis. A dictator named Volkner becomes the new Prime Minister of New Zealand and is using the army and special police to maintain his government. Very soon Smith falls under suspicion and is forced to go back to Auckland, where he is kept under detention and tortured. Luckily the character manages to run away but has to hide from the police by moving from one place to another, trying to make up his mind whether to join the opposition or stay by himself and save his own life. Decisions, decisions.

Although the novel was written almost half a century ago and may at first seem outdated, it still strikes me now, after more than 5 years living in the country, how much it remains relevant and how easily it can be applied to our everyday reality, both in New Zealand and worldwide.

Title: Smith’s Dream
Author: C.K. Stead

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand fiction.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Kia ora! Please feel free to leave your comments or suggestions below.