Monday, March 30, 2009

The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr

Like Revoyr’s excellent Southland (2003), The Age of Dreaming could be described as a historical crime novel about race and culture. Yet it’s more than that. Instead of centering, as in her previous book, on the interweaving stories of the generational struggles of Japanese-American and African American families in and around the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, this elegantly written first-person narrative focuses on a single individual, Jun Nakayama, a Japanese actor during Hollywood’s silent film era. Revoyr’s central character must surely be based on Sessue Hayakawa, whose career ground to a halt in 1922, only to be revived thirty-five years later in Bridge on the River Kwai. The novel opens in 1964 when Nakayama is phoned by a young film fan who wants to interview him. Revoyr takes her time telling the story of this once sought-after and handsome actor who, forty years later, lives in obscurity in a small West Hollywood apartment. Eventually the interviewer admits to wanting Nakayama to star in a film he’s written. Nakayama considers the offer- it would be his first speaking role- but he knows if he takes the role, it might, in the process, dig up the vestiges of a murder, based on the brutal slaying of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor, that, for many years, has been buried in the past.

Incredible that Nakayama-Hayakawa could be a star in Hollywood at a time when, other than in neighborhoods like Crenshaw, Japanese Americans were not allowed to own property or enroll in public schools. In fact, Revoyr is excellent at describing the racially charged atmosphere of the period, just as she is at depicting the sight and smells of the city, or the attraction of silent films- “[There] was a purity to silent films that can never be recaptured in this clamorous age of sound effects and talking...we understood that moving images are the catalysts of dreams- more elegant when undisturbed by voices.” Of Japanese and Polish descent, Revoyr, in The Age of Dreaming and Southland- both books beautifully presented by Akashic- has become one of the best chroniclers of the area’s social and cultural attitudes from the 1920s to the 1960s. A novel for those interested in the early days of Hollywood, the Japanese American experience, or just searching for crime fiction slightly more subtle and literary than usual.

1 comment :

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sounds wonderful. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.