When Rachel Klein was born 12 years ago, Krasnia’s oceanside capital of Brava was a lively, lovely place dotted with palm trees and populated by citizens who reveled in living there. Sadly, in British screenwriter and playwright David Farr’s The Book of Stolen Dreams, lightheartedness is long gone from present-day Brava.
A tyrannical man named Charles Malstain and his army invaded the city shortly after Rachel was born. The emperor of Krasnia was executed in the town square, and Brava was systematically destroyed. Under Malstain’s rule, public spaces are only for adults, posters declaring that “a seen child is a bad child” are plastered everywhere, and children are only permitted to leave home to go to school, where they must study government-issued materials and muddle through dreary days.
But Rachel’s parents, Judith and Felix, create a warm, supportive home for Rachel and her older brother, Robert, where laughter is allowed and creativity is encouraged. On Rachel’s birthday, Felix offers the kids a treat in the form of a visit to the library where he works. What begins as an illicit jaunt soon becomes something the kids never could’ve expected: an urgent, terrifying mission to protect The Book of Stolen Dreams, an ancient magical tome long treasured by good people yet zealously coveted by Malstain, who will stop at nothing to obtain the book and use it for evil.
From an opulent hotel to a mysterious old bookshop, from tenement housing to a massive silver airship, the siblings’ exhilarating and dangerous journey swoops from thrilling to terrifying to heartwarming and back again. Suspenseful action scenes and gasp-worthy surprises abound as Rachel and Robert strive to evade capture while attempting to find the Book’s vitally important but missing last page, which unlocks life-altering magic, before Malstain can.
Farr’s beautifully crafted, thought-provoking story isn’t an easy-breezy read, but Farr is intimately acquainted with its stakes: The Book of Stolen Dreams was inspired by his own German Jewish family’s escape from Nazi Germany between 1935 and 1938. The novel grapples with tough, weighty questions: Is happiness possible under government oppression? When is a risk worthwhile? What do we owe our fellow citizens?
Farr’s characters experience fear and grief right alongside delight and wonder. As his omniscient narrator observes with the mix of hard-won acceptance, hope and love for humanity that echoes throughout The Book of Stolen Dreams, “Such is life, my friend. There is no joy without accompanying sorrow. There is no despair so dark that a sliver of light cannot abate it.”