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Review: Dream Jungle by Jessica Hagedorn

Dream Jungle

by Jessica Hagedorn


A complex novel told by many voices, Dream Jungle is a tale of the Philippines and the journey of a nation struggling to find its identity. It chronicles two major events in the 1970s: the discovery of a lost stone age tribe called the Taobo and an American film crew struggling to finish Napalm Sunset, a violent story about the Vietnam War. (Both events have their real-life counterparts in the discover of the Tasaday tribe and the filming of Apocalypse Now.) The narrator role jumps around, with the story told through the eyes of over a dozen different characters. A young girl named Rizalina is sent to live with her mother and act as a servant in a rich man’s house when her family is killed during a typhoon. Her master Zamora is a playboy famous for discovering the Taobo, a tribe he cares for far more than his wife and children. He begins to show unusual interest in Rizalina, so she runs away. Years later she shows up again when an American actor comes to Manila to prepare for his role in an upcoming movie. The director of the movie, visionary Tony Pierce, has grand ideas for his project but the weather, inhabitants, and even the actors all seem to conspire against him completing the film. Paz Marlowe, a Filipino ex-pat writer trying to cover Zamora’s tribe and Pierce’s movie for an American magazine, is getting frustrated because neither subject is cooperating with her. Tensions are mounting, because everyone has their own goals and pursues their dreams with little thought to the needs and desires of others.


Dream Jungle is not a book I would’ve picked up on my own, but it was an assigned novel in my Asian American Literature class.* (This is just my personal grumbling, but since this is an Asian-American course shouldn’t the novel we analyze to death take place in the US, or involve American characters?)   When I read a book for school, much time is spent analyzing the novel and deconstructing scenes to look deeper into the lives of characters. Constantly doing this does remove some of reading’s pleasures, but if the book is truly good that doesn’t matter. I’ll still be eager to continue reading beyond the assigned pages, finishing the book days or even weeks before the teacher’s required completion date. Unfortunately, this did not happen.


I found the characters mildly interesting, but flat. Nearly every male character was caught up chasing Filipino teens or pampering their egos. Power and sex dominate their minds, whether American or mestizo.   The women tend to conform to stereotyped gender roles as a means of self-preservation; Rizalina embraces the Suzie Wong archetype after running away from Zamora. The reporter Paz is quite abrasive in her approach with others, and the questions she asks are strange. She’s trying to be probing and clever, I think, but more often than not she just seems weird and off-the-mark.


Honestly, I would not recommend this book.   In telling her story I think Hagedorn relies too much on using the same stereotypes that she’s trying to refute. There is definitely some under the surface tension between classes, gender, different ethnic groups…but after spending the past two weeks rigorously over-analyzing them for class I’m utterly sick of Dream Jungle. Perhaps if it is simply read once as a quick amusement novel rather than a Deep Novel Full of Social Conflict and Secret Meaning it would be better. But seriously, it’s kind’ve a snore.


* In fact, it was the only assigned novel, which I thought odd in a literature class.


            To read more about Dream Jungle, buy it or add it to your wishlist, click here.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Nov. 16th, 2008 12:40 pm (UTC)
It sucks that the characters in this book were flat. I think it could've been a good story, just from reading over the plot.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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