Leah's Reviews > Gifts of Unknown Things: A True Story of Nature, Healing, and Initiation from Indonesia's Dancing Island

Gifts of Unknown Things by Lyall Watson
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Feb 03, 10

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Read from January 18 to 29, 2010

This book was so interesting and engaging, I had a hard time putting it down. I'd never heard of Lyall Watson before, but I happened to receive this in a BookCrossing trade. Now I'd like to learn some more about him... I know he's written several other books, so I might have to hunt them down.

(Hehe... I just got an odd mental image of myself dressed in Amazon Warrior attire, bow and arrow at the ready, on the trail of wild books)

Apparently Watson is a biologist who writes about science as well as metaphysics. This book is a chronicle of his time spent on an Indonesian island in the mid-70s, where he supposedly experienced a lot of things that seem crazy to our Western way of thinking. For example, the children on the island all seem to be able to "hear" color. As in, they associate colors with sounds, like a form of synesthesia. An old man is able to "hear" fish underwater, and directs the islanders to fishing spots when supplies are scarce. But the real main character of the book is a young girl raised in the traditional animist beliefs of the island who is an extraordinary dancer, is able to perform psychic healing, and plays with the idea of reality as we know it.

It's hard to know whether the events Watson relates are true, or if they've been creatively embellished. Nevertheless, he's a wonderful writer who has related a fantastic tale. If you take nothing else from the book, at least you'll have that. That, and a mind opened to all the possibilities of the world; the possibilities of the things we've yet to discover. And oddly enough, it seems like Watson isn't trying to make you believe him. His views are a refreshing mix of science and mystery, and he states early on that he finds "instant believers" hard to deal with because "they are so totally committed to their particular brand of mysticism that they devour anything remotely resembling supportive evidence and assimilate it without question into the structure of their beliefs." He'd rather that you don't believe him right away. He goes on to say that he has "equally great misgivings about any persuasion that hardens into dogma," which can be interpreted to mean the pedestal of science and cold hard fact that so many of us look up to. So basically, he's telling the reader to question the world and keep an open mind... and I certainly can't argue with that.


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Quotes Leah Liked

Lyall Watson
“Dancing is surely the most basic and relevant of all forms of expression. Nothing else can so effectively give outward form to an inner experience. Poetry and music exist in time. Painting and architecture are a part of space. But only the dance lives at once in both space and time. In it the creator and the thing created, the artist and the expression, are one. Each participates completely in the other. There could be no better metaphor for an understanding of the mechanics of the cosmos.”
Lyall Watson, Gifts of Unknown Things: A True Story of Nature, Healing, and Initiation from Indonesia's Dancing Island


Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Gill Gifts of unknown things is my favourite book of all time, BUT beware I hate many of his other books, which are dry and lack the 'story' that runs through this one. One to read though is Lightning Bird, you'd enjoy that if you liked this.


Leah M and G wrote: "Gifts of unknown things is my favourite book of all time, BUT beware I hate many of his other books, which are dry and lack the 'story' that runs through this one. One to read though is Lightning B..."

Thanks for the input! When I have more time for reading over the summer I'll try to track down Lightning Bird. I just looked it up and it definitely looks like something I'd be interested in. I'm taking a class right now that's focusing on African literature, and it'll be interesting to follow it up with a non-native account of South Africa.


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