Author: Alejandra Olivera
ISBN: 978-0692800584

Here Be Dragons starts in a slightly confusing manner with a young man’s dream followed by a flashback to his youth to paint a picture of his character. Clearly not a suspense packed beginning but the story is well worth pressing on to enjoy an intriguing portrayal of intertwining lives. It wasn’t long before I had to keep reading to see what would unfold next.

The charm of this book comes from three factors; character depth, plot intrigue and Japanese culture. Characters grow not only from description but also their actions and reactions. Olivera utilizes her psychologist background to take us through dreams, moods, depressions, even a mental breakdown and recovery with a fine mixture of credibility and picturesque language. We are introduced to a broad collection of major characters, each with a substantially different make-up and each contributing in their own way to the story line.

Plot intrigue comes from the way lives intertwine over three generations, sometimes with connections we expect, or at least suspect, are coming yet remain unknown to the characters involved. Olivera explores the impact of an abandoned child, big sister/ little sister travails, domineering mother-in-law, unaccepted bride and misplaced sterility blame. Philosophical gems are mixed in to give an overall rewarding reading experience.

One of the novel’s most enjoyable aspects is its embrace of Japanese culture, which is a remarkable accomplishment for a European author who has lived part-time in Japan for apparently a limited number of years. Perhaps native Japanese might find occasional faults, perhaps not—it is that well done. The culture comes through in words, phrases, thoughts, speech and mannerisms in a way that is unmistakeably oriental. The infusion of Japanese words is unnecessary though obviously some are worthwhile. In fact, they lead to my only criticism of the book; namely, the overuse of footnotes to translate these Japanese expressions. They trip up the flow of the reading and in many cases the translations could be used directly without sacrificing the Japanese cultural aspect. In fact, as the book became more engrossing, I simply ignored most of them and relied on context to guess their meaning.

It wasn’t until after reading the book that I realized it was a translation from the original Spanish version. It became a Japanese story written by a European in Spanish translated into English without losing any of its color or cultural nuances. Remarkable! Remarkable and highly recommended. What does the title mean? Read it and find out.