As I read this book, I felt I was in a dream world. The story line floats from theme to theme without any obvious or concrete connection and yet I was drawn in.
It was like the compulsion one feels when upon waking from an intense and seemingly vivid dream: desperately trying to understand what it meant, trying to hang on to each intangible and ephemeral piece. If you can make sense of it before it disappears, you can hold on to the dream. If you don't analyze the dream, it vanishes and two minutes later you can barely remember the dream, much less what it meant.
Even the real-life characters of the book are portrayed in a dream-like quality. They float in and out of the author's narrative. Their flaws are exposed, but softened by the dream-like world in which they exist.
Only when the author moves to the analysis of the experiences does the narrative leave the dream world. These sections are clear, academic, and enlightening. The analyses are scattered incongruously throughout the book and yet add to it's weight and somehow hold it together. Above all they help the linguistically unschooled (me) to grasp and make sense of the dream world.
The whole time I was reading "Dreaming in Hindi", I was trying to understand "where is the author going with this?" and "what is the purpose of this section?". But most of all I was trying to understand why I didn't "get" so much of the story.
As I headed toward the end I started to understand and things started to come together. I remembered that another book had put my head in the same place: E. M. Forster's "Passage to India".
"Dreaming in Hindi" has helped me to better understand Forster's book. Without using the construct of language, Forster was trying to put the Eastern mind into Western mind. What happens in this procedure is reminiscent of the surgery where the doctor switches brains. It doesn't necessarily follow the expected path.
Rich's use of linguistics as the vehicle to translate Indian culture & language for the "Western Hard-Wired Mind" is brilliant. Even though I am not a linguist and have never traveled to India, it worked for me. In a sense, "Dreaming in Hindi" woke me up mentally, while gently transporting me through the dream world of another language and culture.
Rich not only immerses herself in Hindi, but also becomes involved with an Indian school for the deaf. This involvement leads her on what seems to be an after-thought or side quest: to discover if the sign language of the Hindi deaf was evolving. But for me, this side quest became the exclamation point of the book and pulled everything together.
There is definitely something beautifully humorous and profound in learning a language within a language and finding out that it was not the real language. Instead, the language that you had learned was a rough estimate of something far more complex and powerful. To understand this, make sure you read the epilogue.
This book is a must read for all linguistic students and those who endeavor to become bilingual. I also think it should be required reading for students who will be traveling abroad. For those of us who are not, it is a as close as we will ever get to doing so.
I did not give "Dreaming in Hindi" 5 stars because it targets a very specific audience and requires a willingness on the part of the reader to trust that the author is taking them somewhere even when they feel totally lost and are trying to make sense of it all. With this book, I was never sure of where I was going or where I would land. Some folks don't like going on that kind of journey, in fact they resist it.
For me a five star book reaches a larger audience and does not require that kind of commitment from the reader. But if you revel in "blind" journeys, you will absolutely love this book.
If you are the kind of person who wakes up from the dream and could care less what it meant, maybe this is not the dream for you.