The setting of THE TEN THOUSAND THINGS by Maria Dermout is a place where the natural world and the supernatural world entwine naturally to a point where the difference is no longer discernible. The story’s exact location may be the Moluccas islands of Indonesia where Felicia, the Dutch heroine, lives as a child then comes back to later as a mother with a child of her own, but the feel is otherworldly.
Ghosts in particular predominate the landscape. They are treated as nothing more exotic than the local wildlife. Omens, dreams, predictions, all matter of superstitious paraphernalia are encountered without any sense of surprise.
I would describe THE TEN THOUSAND THINGS as being written in the magic realism style but with enough realistic detail to make me wonder if there isn’t a semi-memoir in there somewhere. Unlike a lot of books written in the magic realism style, I never lost track of what was going on.
Dermout, who wrote only two books in her life, is especially impressive when describing scenery. The scene in which Felicia sights several colorful sea turtles which she later finds out is the exact same time her teenage soldier son is killed in combat is amazing and I can almost see those colors appear to blind me with their brightness.
In addition, the end where Felicia welcomes the ghosts of several characters who’ve died during the story including her son into her garden is moving and really does a good job of tying together a seemingly disparate novel.
This is beautiful, mysterious prose filled with clarity despite the book’s unreal elements. A unique work unlike anything I’ve ever read. I’d dare to call it a masterpiece.