Meet my new favorite novel–“Ata” is new age fiction at its best
This is the book I’ve been longing to find: A gem of a story that’s been waiting for rediscovery as new age fiction. Dorothy Bryant’s 1971 novel, originally promoted as science fiction, is described as “part love story, part science fiction, and at once Jungian myth and utopian allegory.” But by today’s standards, it’s a straightforward exploration of connecting to the highest and best parts of ourselves and living according to that guidance.
Story: The kin of Ata live only for the dream. Their work, their art, their love are designed in and by their dreams, and their only aim is to dream higher dreams. Into the world of Ata comes a desparate man, who is first subdued and then led on the spiritual journey that, sooner or later, all of us must make (back cover).
Spiritual/metaphysical content: Very high. Berkley Monthly called the novel “a beautiful, symbolic journey of the soul,” but there’s very little about it that’s symbolic when read as new age fiction. Here’s my description of the story: When a famous writer hits bottom, he wakes up in what appears to be a simple commune from the Sixties that practices all the fundamental truths of most religious, spiritual, and self-help philosophies: Life in the moment. Connect with your higher self/guide/God for guidance. You cannot judge good or bad, right or wrong, true or false; truth is relative. You cannot heal the mind without also addressing the body and spirit, and much more. In addition, the book is compatible with Christian beliefs (at least the more modern interpretations of the Bible). As the man learns more about the kin of Ata, he realizes what a complex, spiritually advanced group they are despite–or perhaps because of–their seeming simplicity. The people of Ata live in a way that is free of sin, guilt, exclusion, worry, and pain, and yet is joyful, productive, and satisfying both in body and spirit.
My take: This is a well-written, lyrical novel that exemplifies new age fiction at perhaps its finest. Although the book is quite short, the plot is strong and compelling, and we come to love the characters and yearn for their success. Although clearly utopian, the story proposes an integrated vision of a future that is both functional and inspirational.
I loved this book. Part of its allure is its depth; it can be read at multiple levels: as an intriguing trifle of sci-fi/fantasy, an introduction to broader spiritual principles, or an insightful analysis of some of modern society’s ills and how new age/metaphysical thought can not only ease the many sufferings of our world but also provide a model of sustainable growth and development. Please don’t get me wrong–at heart, this is a relatively simple book, but it contains profound insights for spiritual growth. And best of all, it’s an easy, entertaining read. Entertain and educate–the perfect combination for new age fiction.
The title confounds me a bit because it sheds very little light on what the book is actually about; the back cover description suffers from this shortcoming as well. I suspect that it was a marketing decision in 1971 to promote a book that so clearly had literary value but fell into no recognizable genre (again, a case for the genre for new age fiction). In today’s market, the title does the reader a disservice by not indicating the spiritual depth of the novel. As with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that may have been the price for getting published nearly forty years ago. Interestingly, the book was originally published in 1971 under the title The Comforter, which again seems unrelated to what the book is actually about. I am researching Dorothy Bryant’s other novels for similar themes; Confessions of Madame Psyche looks interesting. Can anyone recommend her other works?
The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for you, by Dorothy Bryant
Published by Random House and Moon Books, 1971
Paperback, 220 pages
Buy at Amazon