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The magic Etta’s needle weaves just might inspire readers to weave a little (real) magic of their own, born out of faith and perseverance.

Book Review: ‘The Dress Shop of Dreams,’ Magical Realism by Menna van Praag

In a society driven mainly by scientific fact and logical reasoning, it’s nice to believe that perhaps magic does still exist. While believing in God and in the miracles of faith as experienced by believers of various denominations, it’s sometimes nice to read about a sort of magic that requires minimal effort.

What can I say, walking the path of faith is a lot of hard work!

Menna van Praag’s The Dress Shop of Dreams provides the kind of enchantment one can easily escape into. The only magic in the book is in one act alone that changes the course of the life of the individuals on which it is bestowed. But this change in the course of one’s life is something that many have and even more can experience in day to day life without any magic other than courage. And so, this book becomes a study in what-ifs, as the reader is encouraged to think how a small, non-magical step in a different direction can create, down the line, monumental changes — a butterfly effect of sorts, be it only in our personal lives.

Cora Sparks’ parents died in a mysterious house fire many years ago, when she was only a child. Cora has since then exerted every ounce of energy she had into becoming an expert in the same scientific field her parents had excelled in, creating a life oftentimes at odds with the atmosphere of her grandmother’s dress shop, where she spent most of her free time. Etta’s store is charming, vintage, cozy, and exudes a je ne sais quoi that no one but she knows the source of: with just a few stitches from her needle, the gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

To date, Etta has not worked her magic on her granddaughter. But she yearns to, since Cora’s extreme scientific mind has created a life in which she only thinks she is happy, but clearly is not. Etta finally gives in when she realizes that Cora might miss her chance at happiness, as she continues to overlook the possibility of a life with Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her since they first met as children. But Etta soon realizes that her stitches have set in motion events that are not only affecting Cora and Walt’s lives, but her own.

While the magic that Etta’s needle weaves does not exist, the potency of a change in perspective can yield magical results. In essence, Cora’s life starts changing when Walt, bolstered by Etta’s stitches, confesses his feelings. But although it makes it easier, magic is not needed for us to break patterns of thought and behavior that keep us in a box where we are not at our happiest. Rather, hard, tedious work, oftentimes in the form of very simple, repetitive tasks that we have to persevere in performing despite the seeming lack of results is what generates the results we are looking for. And this just might be what true magic is: transforming our lives through day to day, small actions, that take courage, perseverance, and faith.

More information about Menna van Praag is available on her website.

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