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Tiger Dreams

by Almeda Glenn Miller

Readers should be forgiven if, weeks after finishing Tiger Dreams, they mistakenly remember it as a film rather than a novel. First-time novelist Almeda Glenn Miller favours the sweep of the big screen, moving from panoramic views to detailed, close-up shots, and her story features a wide cast of supporting characters. The effect is enhanced by the fact that Claire Spencer, Miller’s protagonist, is a filmmaker who records many of her experiences in the form of a script.

Mourning the loss of her father, suffering from a potentially fatal heart condition, and questioning her long-term relationship, Spencer is an Anglo-Indian-Canadian woman deeply confused by her circumstances. Having just learned that her paternal grandfather was Gandhi’s jailer during the political unrest in 1930s India, she resolves to travel to her ancestors’ homeland and record her experiences. The result is her finished documentary script, excerpted throughout the novel.

An intense evocation of time and place, Tiger Dreams explores the links between past and present and East and West, largely through the juxtaposition of Spencer’s story with her grandmother’s. Miller’s short but moving glimpses into the lives of secondary characters – from Spencer’s doctor and librarian, to the women she meets en route – bring the novel alive with a multitude of stories and storylines (though Gandhi’s appearance feels far too brief). The repetitive use of different voices that “speak” to Spencer from her subconscious and her recurring dreams of tigers add symbolic weight to the story.

There are faults. Casual happenstances in the novel are far too contrived to be believable, and Claire too often bumps into characters who knew her grandmother. Nevertheless, Miller has accomplished much with Tiger Dreams, straddling the distances not only between worlds, but between the genres of film and print.