THE DREAMTIME by Robert Louis Nathan


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A protean, unclassifiable narrative with elements of myth, history, hallucination--Robert Louis Nathan's first novel spreads a sequence of protagonists over 35 centuries and several continents. Nathan invents a 15th century B.C. aboriginal Australian Messiah, Wilkulda, who welds the insights of tribal totemic worship with a new gospel based on love and forgiveness. The ""Dreamtime"" is both space (uninhabitable central Australia, where Wilkulda penetrates to the eyrie of the Sky Eagle, creator of his tribe or ""mankind"") and time (an eternal present in which the Sky Eagle and the lesser totemic ancestors ritually create and sustain the ""mankinds""). Wilkulda's disciple Kalod lives for centuries preaching the new/old truth, and enough of the legend survives in the mid-19th century to convert a godly British sea captain who hears Wilkulda's story in Sydney from a syphilitic Dutchman and his aborigine whom. The captain's grand-nephew, a blinded and lung-damaged WW I veteran, inherits his journal and the task of sorting out the facts of his apocalyptic end. Nathan handles his bizarrely original materials with erratic skill. His greatest difficulty is in Finding a language measured to his different first- and third-person narratives: clumsy, bathetic passages compete with genuinely incantatory moments. There is trouble too with Wilkulda's message and the emphasis on myth in human experience. Nathan has to make these strike us with the force of revelation if they are to form an adequate center for the work, and he doesn't always succeed. But the structure of the narrative as it moves in and out of the various times and stories is wonderfully vigorous. Each story parallels the others; the shape of the book embodies the idea of an eternal creation and a continuum of experience which sounds bookish and anticlimactic when Nathan tries to formulate it directly. A work to stretch the imagination--by force and sometimes by craft.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1975
Publisher: Overlook--dist. by Viking