Category Archives: Hawaiian

The Spy Lover by Kiana Davenport

Spy LoverThe Spy Lover lingered on the top of my must-read pile for months, mainly because I just needed a break from the death and destruction of war (seems to be my reading theme for too much of this year!). I wasn’t wrong to be afraid: set during the U.S. Civil War, the horrific, insanity-inducing body count looms large on almost every page, making the haunting, multi-layered love stories that much more precious and lasting. That love – between family, friends, lovers – can outlast the man-made evils of war is stunning testimony to the human capacity to nurture, bond, and survive.

Johnny Tom, who escapes famine and death in his native China, arrives in the new world only to be repeatedly enslaved. From the spirit-breaking labor of the Hawai’i sugar plantations, he escapes to the mainland, only to be kidnapped and shipped to New Orleans where he is offered up on the auction block as a cheaper alternative to black slaves. His brief respite as a free man, contentedly sharing life with his hapa Native American wife and their daughter, is stolen from him when the Civil War breaks out, and the town’s men are conscripted to serve in the Confederate Army. Refusing to fight for slavery, he defects to the Union side, answering promises that his loyalty will be rewarded with citizenship upon victory. He stays alive talking story, managing to turn away from the racist barrages, concentrating on nurturing the weaker and younger with his tales of travel, relationships, and survival when nothing else is left.

In another camp, Johnny’s teenage daughter has escaped her own slaughter, only to witness to thousands and thousands of unthinkable tragedies. Thinking the only way to find her father will be through her own military service, Era Tom is caregiver, comforter, savior … and spy. She tends to the Confederate wounded with genuine empathy and selfless caring, even as she gathers intelligence for the other side. She will not serve the slavers, and yet she will do everything she can to keep their butchered boys alive. When she falls headlong in love with a soldier whose mangled arm she helps to remove then hopes to heal, she must somehow find a way to justify heart, mind, and soul with her traitorous emotions …

Relying on her own ancestral history, bestselling Hawai’i author Kiana Davenport renders a little-known, vital moment of American history and bears testimony to its remarkable Chinese American survivors. When the Civil War finally ended, the U.S. government abandoned Chinese and Chinese American soldiers, revoking their promise of citizenship. Post-Civil War, Chinese Americans fell victim to one of the most virulently racist, anti-Asian periods in American history, marked by murderous purgings of whole communities throughout the American West. Racism became institutionalized, culminating in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which remained legal until 1943, but effectively enforced until 1965 when race-based immigration quotas finally lifted. Not until 2003 – almost 150 years! – were Civil War soldiers of Chinese descent recognized very posthumously with citizenship; the descendants, as Davenport notes, are still denied veteran pensions.

History – often presented via sterilized facts and surreal figures – always becomes more real with names and faces attached. Davenport vividly journeys coast-to-coast with her fearsome ancestors, stopping in some of the most gruesome, blood-soaked battlefields, and to dream and hope in some of the most majestic open frontiers. Their intertwined stories beckon … you merely need to turn the page and listen in.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Chinese, Chinese American, Hapa, Hawaiian, Native American

I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941 by Lauren Tashis, illustrated by Scott Dawson

I Survived the Bombing of Peark Harbor, 1941Today – December 7, 2012 – is the 71st anniversary of the “date which will live in infamy,” as named by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in describing the assault on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base and launching the United States into World War II. That the attackers were Japanese would eventually lead to Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 which imprisoned some 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent.

In less than a hundred pages, Lauren Tarshis manages to tell a riveting story and populate the slim title (perfectly proportioned for even the most hesitant middle grade readers!) with resonating historical and sociological content. Danny and his single mother are new residents of Pearl City, Hawai’i, where his mother works as a nurse at Hickam Air Force Base in Pearl Harbor; she’s thankful to be in “the most beautiful place on earth,” while Danny just wishes they could go back to their old New York City apartment and be with his best friend Finn. Even as Danny’s mother is adamant that this “fresh start” will keep her son “away from danger and trouble,” Danny is plotting a stowaway journey home. And then the bombs fall: Danny’s plans for escape turn into a fight for survival, not just for himself but for the friends he has begun to make, including the brave officer trying too hard to win his mother’s affections, and his Japanese American neighbors whose irresistible little boy Aki is already devotedly attached to Danny.

As the author behind Scholastic’s I Survived series – “[e]ach … tells a terrifying and thrilling story from history, through the eyes of a boy who lived to tell the tale,” her website explains – Tarshis must be an incredibly quick study, producing what seems to be two titles a year highlighting diverse historical moments. If Pearl Harbor, the fourth in seven titles thus far, is any indication, Tarshis is especially thorough. Into the heart-thumping survival story that lasts some 48 hours (with a final Christmas Day chapter that serves almost as an epilogue), Tarshis weaves in gang influence within the FBI, questions of identity, anti-Japanese backlash and fear, Japanese American imprisonment without just cause, a good old love story, and a young boy’s coming-of-age from numbness to fear to feeling. For the further curious, Tarshis’ after-story appendix is filled with historical notes, a tucked-in update on Danny’s mom and her officer, a detailed time line, and resources to find out more (including a few titles detailing true stories of real Pearl Harbor children).

Of course when handing this book to your reluctant reader, he or she doesn’t need to know anything more than this is just a really good story. Enough said!

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2011


Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, Hawaiian, Japanese American, Nonethnic-specific

Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku by Ellie Crowe, illustrated by Richard Waldrep

surfer-of-the-centuryAn inspiring, poignant biography – just perfect for kids! – of the legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, who was also the fastest swimmer in the world for 16 years! In spite of his championships, Kahanamoku still faced endless prejudice because of his darker Hawaiian American skin, yet he managed to graciously triumph over countless obstacles. Today’s he’s celebrated as “The Father of Modern Surfing” and the sport would never have been the same without him!

Review: TBR’s Editors’ Favorites of 2007,” The Bloomsbury Review, November/December 2007

Tidbit: Well, what do you know … while I was pulling up the book cover on Amazon, I noticed my mini-review is included in the “Editorial Reviews” section!

Readers: Children

Published: 2007

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Biography, .Nonfiction, Hawaiian

The Queen of Tears by Chris McKinney

queen-of-tearsOnce Korea’s greatest movie star – dubbed ‘the Queen of Tears’ for her ability to cry convincingly on film – Soong Nan Lee arrives in Hawai‘i to face her three adult children. Her two eldest by her Korean director husband who discovered her, are still stinging from her abandonment of them decades earlier. Won Ju, her oldest, is stuck with a philandering husband and their spoiled, damaged son. Donny, her one son, is marrying a stripper just to spite her. And Darian, her one true American child fathered by Soong’s Korean American GI second husband, has abandoned her graduate work at Berkeley to set up house with stripper Crystal’s younger brother. When the whole family opens a Korean-food beach shack restaurant with the last of Soong’s money, complications arise in such close quarters among the tangled three generations with tragic results.

Reviews: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, some new and notable books,” Christian Science Monitor, May 23, 2006

“In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: A Literary Survey,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2006

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Hapa, Hawaiian, Korean, Korean American

Behold the Many: A Novel by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

behold-the-manyHow Yamanaka can tell some of the most harrowing stories with such lyrically beautiful language is astonishing. In her latest novel, Hawaii’s best-known writer captures the story of three lost, tuberculosis-stricken sisters, sent away to an orphanage by their drunkenly abusive Portuguese father and their helplessly silent Japanese mother. The two younger sisters die, but their ghosts cannot find peace and continue to haunt and torment the eldest Anah for surviving. Even as Anah falls in love and finally starts a life away from the orphanage, eventually succeeding with a beekeeping business, the ghosts will not set her free.

Reviews: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: A Literary Survey,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2006

TBR‘s Contributing Editors’ Favorite Reads of 2006: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things … in Print, That Is …,” The Bloomsbury Review, November/December 2006

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Hapa, Hawaiian, Japanese American

Children of a Fireland: A Novel by Gary Pak

Children of a FirelandIn the small, conservative town of Kanewai, on Oahu, Hawaii, mischievous messages start mysteriously appearing on the walls of the old town movie theater slotted for demolition. Tensions rise as the words become more aggressively intimate, revealing all sorts of secrets. People start dying and disappearing, ghosts come back to haunt what they left behind, and still no one – living or not – quite knows who is authoring those late night missives. It’s a touching, ironic, frantic, and downright entertaining read.

Review: “New and Notable Books, AsianWeek, April 7, 2005

Readers: Adult

Published: 2005

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Hawaiian

Da Word by Lee A. Tonouchi + Author Interview

Da WordDa Pidgin Guy: Lee Tonouchi reclaims his native language

They call him “Da Pidgin Guerrilla.” Bekuz o’ da way he talk. And da fak dat he determined to keep duh langwage of da Locals alive. He no giv up. Evuh.

Lee Tonouchi, 28, is an expert in language. As a fourth-generation Hawai’i local with a master’s in English, who teaches at a local Honolulu community college, he champions Pidgin, also known as “hybolics,” as a bonafide form of linguistic expression, specific to the Hawai’i community. Besides writing his graduate thesis in Pidgin, he conducts his every day life in Pidgin. He’s even got a magazine, appropriately titled Hybolics, devoted to reclaiming, preserving, and celebrating Pidgin.

His writings have won him an Academy of American Poets Award and two playwrighting contests at Kumu Kahua, the nation’s second oldest Asian American theater company, based in Honolulu. Just arrived on the mainland is Da Word (Bamboo Ridge Press, 144 pages, $15), Tonouchi’s entertaining collection of short stories composed entirely in his native tongue. And he’s not letting anyone correct his English.

Give us a little history of Pidgin – what exactly is it?
People say dat Pidgin originated wit da plantations. Cuz had immigrants from all ova – so da result of all da interacking wuz dis mixture of languages. My tinkings is dat one of da first Pidgins in Hawai’i wuz probably wen da white man first came ova hea. So one blend of Hawaiian and English wuz probably da result. Da linguists who study Pidgin say dat lotta da gramatical structures of Pidgin stay rooted in Hawaiian which makes sense. Da ony kooky ting is dat da linguists call Pidgin, “Hawai’i Creole English.” Dey say dat Pidgin is one misnomer. Pidgin is called Pidgin but is not really one pidgin. Confusing, yeah?

Very. So what exactly is “hybolics” then?
Hybolics is shot fo’ “hyperbolic,” or da use of hyperbole, da exaggerated form of speech. Long time ago wen Pidgin to da Max came out, da ting wen define hybolics as “to talk like one intellectual-kine haole.” Built into dis definition is da assumption dat ony Caucasian people talk standard english and standard english automatically means mo’ intellectual. By taking da name “hybolics,” wot we trying fo’ do is reclaim da word and make da statement dat you can use Pidgin jus as well fo’ express da kine intellectural ideas.

Do you always speak in Pidgin?
Now, yeah. Befo’, no. Befo’, you stay in school, da teachers no let you go bachroom if you tell, “Can go bachroom?” Dey tell, “I don’t know, can you?” You gotta say ‘em, “May I please use the restroom?” And if you no do ‘em, den you jus gotta hold your shi-shi.

What are the key Pidgin words that everyone should know?
“Da kine.” [An all-purpose word used to replace forgotten or unknown words.] To me dat best illustrates da whole theories of Pidgin. Lot of Pidgin is contextual and you gotta use your intuition to figure out da meaning. You gotta feel da meaning.

What would you like to see written on your tombstone?
I still young yet, so I no tink about dat. How about “I no like die. But I guess I did.”

Author interview: “Da Pidgin Guy: Lee Tonouchi reclaims his native language,” aMagazine: Inside Asian America, June/July 2001

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2001

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Hawaiian

Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan, illustrated by Lillian Hsu-Flanders

Dumpling SoupEvery year, the extended Yang family gathers from all over the Hawaiian island of Oahu at Grandma’s house to celebrate New Year’s Eve. This year, young Marisa will help make the dumplings for Grandma’s famous dumpling soup.

Set in Hawai’i, a veritable melting pot of diverse races, this book represents a rich mix of customs and cultures through the depiction of the close-knit Yang family. While most of the family is of Korean descent, other members are Japanese, Chinese, native Hawaiian, and haole (Hawaiian for Caucasians). All together, they create a loving, sharing family who gather annually to celebrate their rich heritages. An exquisitely illustrated, heartwarming work.

Review: “Asian American Titles,” What Do I Read Next? Multicultural Literature, Gale Research, 1997

Readers: Children

Published: 1993

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Hawaiian, Korean American, Pan-Asian Pacific American

Plantation Child and Other Stories by Eve Begley Kiehm

Plantation ChildA group of lyrical, interrelated shorts stories about multi-generations of the Kim family, who begin their American lives in the Korean camp section of a Hawaiian sugarcane plantation in the early 1900s. As the young Kims struggle to survive, they still manage to hold on and enjoy what little is left of their childhoods. A haunting collection of stories, suitable even for adults.

Review: “Asian American Titles,” What Do I Read Next? Multicultural Literature, Gale Research, 1997

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult

Published: 1995

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Hawaiian, Korean American

All I Asking for Is My Body by Milton Murayama

All I Asking For Is My BodyAn often comic, yet poignant work about the coming-of-age of young Kiyoshi, living in the Japanese plantation camps of Hawai’i during the 1930s and ’40s. While he is expected to be a filial son and help pay off a $6,000 family debt, Kiyoshi cannot help admire his older, outspoken, less dutiful brother.

The title comes from first son Toshio’s constant complaint: “All I asking for is my body” – all I ask is that I am finally freed from my impossible filial duties to live my own life. In addition to the book’s important historical context (Hawaiian plantation life, Pearl Harbor, etc.), it also focuses on the importance of language among second-generation Asian immigrants living in Hawai’i. As Kiyoshi remarks, American-born children in Hawai’i interchangeably spoke four languages: “good English in school, pidgin English [the native Hawaiian pidgin] among themselves, good or pidgin Japanese to our parents and the other old folks.”

Review: “Asian American Titles,” What Do I Read Next? Multicultural Literature, Gale Research, 1997

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 1959

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Hawaiian, Japanese American