Dreaming Water

( 11 )


Bestselling author Gail Tsukiyama is known for her poignant, subtle insights into the most complicated of relationships. Dreaming Water is an exploration of two of the richest and most layered human connections that exist: mother and daughter and lifelong friends.

Hana is suffering from Werner's syndrome, a disease that makes a person age at twice the rate of a healthy individual: at thirty-eight Hana has the appearance of an eighty-year-old. Cate, her mother, is caring for her ...

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Bestselling author Gail Tsukiyama is known for her poignant, subtle insights into the most complicated of relationships. Dreaming Water is an exploration of two of the richest and most layered human connections that exist: mother and daughter and lifelong friends.

Hana is suffering from Werner's syndrome, a disease that makes a person age at twice the rate of a healthy individual: at thirty-eight Hana has the appearance of an eighty-year-old. Cate, her mother, is caring for her while struggling with her grief at losing her husband, Max, and with the knowledge that Hana's disease is getting worse by the day.

Hana and Cate's days are quiet and ordered. Cate escapes to her beloved garden and Hana reads and writes letters. Each find themselves drawn into their pasts, remembering the joyous and challenging events that have shaped them: spending the day at Max's favorite beach, overcoming their neighbors' prejudices that Max is Japanese-American and Cate is Italian-American, and coping with the heartbreak of discovering Hana's disease.

One of the great joys of Hana's life has been her relationship with her beautiful, successful best friend Laura. Laura has moved to New York from their hometown in California and has two daughters, Josephine and Camille. She has not been home in years and begs Hana to let her bring her daughters to meet her, feeling that Josephine, in particular, needs to have Hana in her life. Despite Hana's latest refusal, Laura decides to come anyway. When Laura's loud, energetic, and troubled world collides with Hana and Cate's daily routine, the story really begins.

Dreaming Water is about a mother's courage, a daughter's strength, and a friend's love. It is about the importance of human dignity and the importance of all the small moments that create a life worth living.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A poignant portrait of mother-daughter love in the face of death, without the attendant melodrama easily wrung from such material." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Beautifully written, effused with both sadness and hope, Tsukiyama's novel cannot fail to move readers." (Booklist - starred review)

"...Tsukiyama tells a simple story in a straightforward way...[in] a delicate, deceptively powerful new novel." (USA Today)

USA Today
...Tsukiyama tells a simple story in a straightforward way...[in] a delicate, deceptively powerful new novel.
Beautifully written, effused with both sadness and hope, Tsukiyama's novel cannot fail to move readers.
Publishers Weekly
Tsukiyama (The Language of Threads) has a style at once evocative and formal, well suited to historical romances; now she takes on contemporary drama. At 38, Hana Murayama is dying of Werner's syndrome, a genetic defect that causes premature aging. Hana is almost totally dependent on her mother, Cate, who at 62 is still recovering from the sudden death of her husband, Max. As a child during WWII, Max had been interned with other Japanese-Americans in a camp in Wyoming and subsequently went on to teach history at a small northern California college. That background, her mother's love of gardening and her own usually feisty outlook are what Hana brings to her effort to live and die with dignity. Over the course of two days, Hana and Cate retrace in memory their lives and Max's. Their scattered and sometimes conflicting expectations are brought into sharp focus when Hana's best friend, Laura, now a successful East Coast lawyer, arrives with her two daughters, Hana's godchildren, allowing Hana and Cate to find a measure of the reconciliation that has eluded them. Tsukiyama has a wonderful ability to elicit delicate atmospherics; in particular, she uses the sense of touch to stunning effect. But the pacing is stilted, and neither Cate nor Hana allows herself a moment of private rage, although, in her thoughts, Cate strays briefly from the stoic. Her implicit frustration adds a note of vulnerability to the moving, subtle narrative. (May) Forecast: With more than 400,000 copies of her books in print, Tsukiyama should have no problem finding an audience for this title. Blurbs from Michael Chabon and Jane Hamilton won't hurt, either. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Tsukiyama's fifth novel details a short span in the life of Cate and Hana, a mother and daughter coping with the onslaught of Werner's Syndrome. This syndrome, which ages a person abnormally, makes Hana look and feel 80 rather than 38. Yet she yearns for all the good things that life will never bring her, and Cate, recovering from the sudden death of her husband, cares lovingly for Hana. When Hana's best friend, Laura, arrives with her teenaged daughters to visit, Hana has a chance to reconnect with this troubled woman after a long absence. Laura and her children are able to help Hana and Cate face the future's uncertainties, while at the same time Hana and Cate discover that they are able to help Laura's girls grow up in numerous unseen ways. Tsukiyama (Women of the Silk) writes beautifully about courage and love, showing us the importance of daily kindnesses and highlighting the beauty found in the relationships among mothers, daughters, and friends. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/02.] Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, MD Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Embracing a far smaller universe than her usual sweeping historical fare (The Language of Threads, 1999, etc.), Tsukiyama blossoms with an intimate portrait of a mother and her dying daughter. Spanning only two days (but a lifetime of memories), the narrative is divided among Hana, her mother Cate, and teenaged goddaughter Josie. Hana is in the last stages of Werner's Syndrome, a disease that speeds up aging. Though only 38, she has the stooped, birdlike appearance of someone in her 80s and has been subject to old-age ailments since she was barely out of college. Now in a final decline, mostly wheelchair-bound, Hana finds refuge in the memories of her childhood and particularly of her beloved father Max, recently deceased. Cate, still mourning the loss of her husband, also retreats into the past, her memories of a gentle prince in a Thunderbird convertible. They were an unlikely pair-Cate the Boston-bred daughter of Italians, Max a Japanese-American who suffered as a child in an internment camp-but devoted to each other and to Hana. When Werner's Syndrome handed out an early death sentence to their only child, the couple was devastated. Less successfully thrown into the mix is the voice of Josie, daughter of Hana's childhood friend Lara. She's in a particularly unpleasant teenage stage, seeing everyone as a fake, and her unhappiness about her parents' separation (as well as life in general) throws a superfluous stitch into an otherwise seamless tale focused on the sorrows of dying. Against Hana's wishes, Lara flies with Josie in tow to their small northern California hometown, where Hana still lives. The visit provides an expected epiphany for Josie, but also a respite for Hana:loneliness and isolation had begun to cripple her spirit, but Lara's visit will reintroduce hope and happiness into the house. A poignant portrait of mother-daughter love in the face of death, without the attendant melodrama easily wrung from such material. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312316082
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2008
  • Edition description: First St. Martin Griffin Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 326,996
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 7.83 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Gail Tsukiyama is the author of The Language of Threads, Night of Many Dreams, The Samurai's Garden, and Women of the Silk. She lives in El Cerrito, California.

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Read an Excerpt





A Heart of Stone

As a child I was afraid of the dark. Whenever I heard some strange noise in the night or imagined a shadow to be something it wasn’t, the rapid beating of my heart startled my whole body. Then came a swift intake of breath held so long and so stubbornly I thought it would be my last, my head filled with the quick litany of HailMaryfullofgracetheLordiswiththeeandpleasebewithme. Only under the covers of my bed did I feel protected from the outside world. Now that I’m a sixty-two-year-old woman, my fears have become more defined than those nebulous creatures that creaked and sighed in the night. Now I know that daylight holds the real monsters, and that prayers aren’t always answered.

These thoughts flicker through my mind as I lie in bed and wait for my daughter, Hana, to call from her room. Glancing at the clock, I see that it’s just seven-thirty. The rich morning light of early spring streams through a gap in the curtains. I hear a chorus of birds as I pull back the curtain to see a glorious day, the hills behind the house aglow. It’s been a cold, wet winter and I welcome the thought of a sunny California morning, one of those clear, crisp days that holds such a stunning light you can almost reach out and touch the sky. It’s a small hope but the kind I dare to allow myself nowadays—simple, obtainable things like a strong, hot cup of coffee, a movie that ends happily, the beautiful hair-raising crescendo of a Puccini aria.




Half an hour from now, around eight, Hana’s thin voice will cry out to me, “Mother! You up?” Sometimes I’m afraid I won’t be awake to hear her call or, even worse, that there will be no call. So I’ve developed this habit of listening all the time, my head cocked slightly to one side like that RCA dog, in a perpetual state of waiting.

Twenty-five years ago, Hana’s slow growth combined with her increasing fatigue brought us to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. Until then I thought she was simply a late bloomer who would catch up with other kids her age over a summer spurt. After her checkup, Hana’s doctor called us into his office. He was medium height and had thick, dark eyebrows that made him look stern and serious. There was nothing wrong that he could detect during her checkup, but he wanted to run some tests to check her pituitary and thyroid glands for other probable causes affecting Hana’s growth. “Just to be safe,” he said, in a direct, careful manner. Then he mentioned a patient he’d also seen with Werner’s syndrome, which he explained was an aging disease, characterized by short stature. He clicked his pen and looked up from the file on his desk, his gaze moving from Max to me. “We’ll also need to get both your family histories,” he said, his voice softening. “Right now, Hana’s still too young to be diagnosed with Werner’s, but it’s best to be aware of all the possibilities.”

It was the first time I’d ever heard of Werner’s syndrome, and all I could think of was how could any of this be happening to my child? And why on earth would anyone want his name attached to a disease? “Who is this Werner?” I asked. I remember my husband, Max, sat beside me, stunned. Thirteen-year-old Hana sat outside in the pale green waiting room, healthy in every way so far, except that she was still the size of a nine-year-old. Even now I can feel the shock of the doctor’s words slowly numbing my entire body, as if that meeting were happening all over again.

In the early seventies, Werner’s syndrome was largely unknown even to doctors. It wasn’t so extensively documented as it is now, though its scientific explanation might as well be in a foreign language. All I’ve ever needed to understand is this—Hana carries a gene that is producing an abnormal enzyme that moves throughout her body like a guided missile, gradually damaging good cells and causing her to age prematurely, two to three times faster than normal. And though overt signs of aging wouldn’t appear until her early twenties, we were suddenly shocked into the realization that her life had taken an unexpected turn.

But, unlike me, Hana isn’t afraid of anything. She strikes out at each day with such joy, as if waking up alive every morning is the biggest surprise of all. For her, fear is not an option. She takes life as it comes, and if the years come faster than they should, she grabs at them, too.




I close my eyes, just to rest, then awake with a sudden jerk, startled out of a dream of Max that sadly slips away. The clock reads almost nine-thirty. I’ve fallen back to sleep and don’t know if Hana has called. The house is completely quiet, except for the thumping of my heart as I hurry downstairs to her room. Please, I think to myself, let Hana be all right. Please don’t let her have wet her bed again. But she’s lying perfectly still in her adjustable bed, the kind that rises and lowers at the push of a button, her feet elevated, gazing up at the ceiling. The small room, next to Max’s study, has a closed, slightly medicinal smell to it.

“Two hundred forty-two, two hundred forty-three … I’ve been counting stars,” she says between breaths, her upward gaze unwavering.

I look up at the gold stars Max hand-painted on the ceiling when we moved Hana downstairs five years ago. I’d caught him standing on an old paint-splattered ladder in the middle of the room, and asked him what he was doing.

He looked down, pushed up his glasses, and said matter-of-factly, “I’m painting stars, Cate.”

“But why?”

“For Hana.” He smiled, then looked back up and continued painting.

Hana was the child we used to wish for on so many stars dotting the nighttime skies over Falcon Beach. The way their light illuminated the dark ocean made us believe that wish might come true. I couldn’t help feeling selfish then, for I knew my wishes had already come true. When I met Max Murayama, suddenly all the fears that I’d harbored became something else, something to fight against. Max was worth fighting for. And so was our love, and our marriage back in 1959. An Italian American woman and a Japanese American man, we were the first interracial couple ever to live in the small Northern California town of Daring.

Falcon Beach, a forty-five-minute drive from Daring down the winding coastline, was our refuge, where we sat in Max’s beloved Thunderbird and watched the sunset. We’d usually leave right after he taught his last history class of the week at Brandon College on Friday afternoons. But it wasn’t until twilight, when the beach was in shadows and nearly deserted, that we’d carefully make our way down the path to the long stretch of rocky sand. Max loved the ocean. “My ancestors must have been fishermen,” he said, staring mesmerized at the endless, darkening sea. “It feels like home here.”

I laughed, knowing that his ancestors were anything but seafarers. Max’s parents and grandparents had been horticulturists, growing and selling carnations and chrysanthemums in Southern California. Their feet were firmly planted on the ground, though Max’s heart and mind rose and fell with the ocean.

We walked freely down the beach hand in hand, touching each other in the comfortable, intimate way of married couples. Under the veil of darkness, surrounded by the cool, salty air and with Max’s arm firmly around my waist, I felt all the ease and security I’d prayed to feel in the daylight. In our new hometown of Daring, for the first year of our marriage, we strolled down streets lined with struggling lawns and Victorian and bungalow-style houses. I remember the sweet, pine-scented air and the towering redwood trees, which stood dark against the pale horizon. Like a couple of strangers, we walked two feet apart, offering a quick smile and nod to everyone we passed. Pretty soon I became known as the nice young woman with the foreign husband. And Max was labeled a variety of nationalities from Chinese to Indian by our well-meaning but ignorant neighbors. They were still suspicious of his being Japanese, and of the war he’d been too young to have anything to do with.

Then three years later came Hana, the beautiful child who was a fine blend of the two of us, filling the gap between us when we walked down the street, holding us both by the hand and tying us all together. She’d been the miracle after my two miscarriages. They were a boy and a girl, it grieved me to think, because even though Max would never admit it, I know he might have liked a son to carry on his family name.

“Sometimes you’re more Japanese than I am,” he teased.

It’s true; sometimes I am more Japanese than Max was, or at least just as much so. I hold things in, the good and bad memories that still soothe and sting after so many years. I’ve stored them away, in those small compartments in the back of my mind like in one of those Japanese secret boxes. But lately, the past seems to be unlocked and creeping slowly forward.

Even three years gone, Max still seems to be alive in every room of the house, as if he’s hovering over us, making sure we’re safe—the brightest star of all.




Hana suddenly stops counting and smiles my way. She looks like a small and fragile bird in her big bed, wisps of thin, gray hair spread across her pillow. “All’s well,” she says happily, a ring of triumph in her squeaky voice. “I thought you might want to sleep in for a change.”

I’m relieved beyond words to know that she hasn’t wet her bed again. It’s been just over a week since the first accident, and each morning since, I’ve entered her room filled with anxiety and a knot of panic at the base of my throat at the thought of her body losing control again. The nightstand next to her bed is littered with books, her glasses, her beloved recorder, rubbing alcohol, a bottle of aspirin for headaches, antacids, a family photo in a silver frame.

“I certainly did that.” I smile. “Ready to get up?”

She nods and holds out her thin, pale, almost translucent arms to wrap around my neck so I can help her up. Hana’s ankles have swollen again, and the arterial ulcers have worsened, making it hard for her to get about by herself. Every day I change the bandages and check for any sign of melanoma, dark spots on her feet and legs that may be cancerous and are so common among Werner’s patients. As I pull her up, the lightness of her body surprises me once more, wrapping against mine in a perfect fit, just like the little girl I used to carry sleeping from the car. But now it’s a different story. Now she clings to me not as a child but as a thirty-eight-year-old woman who is dying of old age. We are growing old together, Hana and I, even though lately it seems as if she’s leaving me behind.

I can easily admit that while I’m past the age of caring what people think about me, I do care how Hana feels when people stop and stare, or shake their heads when they don’t think we’re watching. “How are you feeling, dear?” and “You’re looking well” are the most common comments from all the neighbors, who are increasingly awkward and uncomfortable around us. I suppose I can’t blame them. In the past ten years, Hana has aged at an astonishing rate. She has the appearance of an eighty-year-old woman, although her mind remains young and vital. Lately, it’s been hard to get her to leave the house, except for our daily walks at a nearby park, and even that can be a struggle. Her hair has thinned and turned completely white, and her face has taken on the sharp, birdlike features typical of the disease. But Hana has Max’s eyes, and no matter how fast she ages, her dark, piercing gaze is so filled with life it still breaks my heart to look into them.




“Am I too heavy?” she asks me now. I manage a smile, thinking how I wish she were, how I wish it were Hana’s strong, healthy arms supporting me. “No,” I whisper into her ear. “Not at all.”

She hugs my neck tighter. She hasn’t always been so quiescent. Her life since the diagnosis has had its share of rebellious moments. She just accepts her fate better now, and as her body weakens her mind and heart grow and strengthen. I keep hoping for the same balance for myself. Sometimes I actually think I’ve found it, only to lose it again just before sleep or in the early hours of the morning. But it seems the more her heart opens up, the more mine hardens. By the time Hana leaves me, I’ll have a heart of stone that refuses to break.

DREAMING WATER. Copyright © 2002 by Gail Tsukiyama. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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Reading Group Guide

Set in present day California, Dreaming Water is a wrenching portrait of mothers, daughters, and friends. Cate is caring for her daughter Hana who is suffering from Werner's Syndrome, which makes a person age at twice the rate of a healthy individual; at thirty-eight, Hana has the appearance of an eighty year old. As Hana's disease progresses, she and Cate must come to terms with their past and make peace with their future. Their quiet world is turned upside down when Hana’s best friend appears with her two energetic daughters after being gone for many years. Gail Tsukiyama is at her best in this poignant, gripping, and beautiful story about love, loss, and friendship.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 26, 2011

    Insight on Werner's disease

    A great read as all Gail Tsukiyama's books are. I love each one and sometimes read them twice. You will learn about this terrible disease from the heart and soul and as a mother.

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  • Posted September 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Tsukiyama does it again!

    If you're looking for an exciting, action packed book this will not be the book choice for you. How would I describe it? My description would be contradictory at best: somewhat sad but uplifting. While others might describe it as "depressing" I disagree with them because I think the integrity and strength of the characters far outweighs the melancholic areas of this story. As this is only my second of Tsukiyama's books it is refreshing to find stories with honorable characters

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2006

    Very good book

    Gail Tsukiyama has such a beautiful way with words. Her way of introducing and describing her characters are some of the best I have ever read. She repeats a lot in this novel, but still a very readable and satisfying book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2005

    Great Read

    This book was a wonderful story. The reader gets right into the mother-daughter relationship. The expereinces are not one which most mothers go through but, it still felt very real. This is one of Gail's bests!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2003

    An Easy Weekend Read

    This book was an easy read from start to finish. I usually prefer books with a little more 'meat', but this one was very satisfying. It is told through the view of three different characters and I enjoyed reading and learning about each of them.

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