At a time when more of our written words appear on bright computer and phone screens than ever before, we’ve decided to go retro and celebrate books printed on wood pulp. Paper, properly preserved, can last for centuries–probably a bit longer than the latest iPad, we’re guessing.
Regardless of the medium we use, reading forces us to use our brains like no other activity. Anthropologists are beginning to understand that without reading, our entire society and civilization would be different. Instead of stretching out in a world of complex and abstract ideas that we can share with relative ease, we would be trapped in an anecdotal world of personal experiences, unable to comprehend that which we didn’t witness first-hand. It’s not enough for the mind to observe–it must be allowed to imagine, and reading provides no better mental exercise.
So here are six new books written by individuals intimately familiar with Maui and Hawaii. Some are lavishly put together, others thinner and more economical. All have one thing in common: they force us to use our minds to imagine Maui or Hawaii in a new way.
DAUGHTERS OF FIRE
By Tom Peek
Koa Books, Kihei
495 pages; $20
There’s an opulent new resort going up on Hawaii Island, and local activists aren’t happy about it. Rough characters move in the shadows, committing shocking crimes and carrying out dark rituals. Locals see it all, but live in fear and say nothing. Ignorant haoles blunder into trouble, slowly learning about the fiery trouble that bubbles beneath the island’s surface–both literally and figuratively–but also the deep connection that binds the Kanaka people to their land.
This isn’t noir, with moral ambiguities and anti-heroes–chapter titles like “Evil Afoot On The Sacred Volcano” and “The Governor’s Weasel” lay things down pretty clearly–but Daughters of Fire is still a great read. It’s a lush and earnest story of good and evil, rich in metaphor and magical realism that takes place in contemporary times but holds fast to a time long gone.
This is a book about power and justice. It hits those thematic anvils pretty hard, starting on the very first page with a quote from President Barack Obama about the “grim” and “unjust” troubles in Hawaii’s past.
Speaking of which, this may be a novel, but it’s also one of the most factually aware novels I’ve come across. It contains an Author’s Note, Afterword, Suggestions for Further Reading, a glossary of Hawaiian and pidgin terms, a Hawaiian language pronunciation guide and three pages of Acknowledgments. At times, even the text itself reads like a guidebook for mainlanders who know nothing of Hawaii:
“‘Uncle Sonny, tell us more,’ said a man standing by the exit, tattooed arms folded across his chest. He was not Sonny Kiakahi’s nephew, but part of a larger family–the Hawaiian community–and respected elders were always referred to in a familial way, as ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty.’”
That said, certain elements don’t ring true. A newspaper story that alleges a scientific cover-up is too simplistic, and it’s highly unlikely that state officials would allow a resort to include a jungle filled with live crocodiles.
Still, there’s enough romance, intrigue and murder in Daughters of Fire to make the novel an interesting yarn even for a reader born in the islands. But at times the book seems too eager to teach the reader about Kanaka culture.
Exposing the drama of Hawaii that doesn’t appear in guidebooks or in-flight magazines is nothing particularly new in literature. Even I’ve written two novels that have fun with that theme. Every city in America is more complex than the brochures put out by its Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, but given the mountains of money people make in Hawaii off the land, and the way a complex word like “aloha,” which the Kanaka used to express undying love, has been twisted into a friendly way of saying “hello” and “goodbye,” another correction is always welcome.
It’s not enough to learn about Hawaii, the book seems to say–you must also respect it. You can find those words written in dozens of guidebooks, but this novel shows why.
[Available in e-versions and paperback at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com and in paperback at Barnes & Noble in Lahaina, Ono Gelato in Kihei and, on Dec. 2, at the Maui Book Publishers Table at Whole Foods.]
KALAUPAPA: A COLLECTIVE MEMORY
By Anwei Skinsnes Law
University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu
575 pages, $49 hardback, $28.99 paperback
Imi wale ia oe la e ka Lani, You are much sought, Heavenly One,
Ma na paia o ka nahele, Among the verdant bowers of upland forests,
Aia ihea oe e ka Lani? Where have you gone, Heavenly One?
E hai mai oe e ke ala. Reveal a trace of that familiar scent.
-From Imi Ia Ka Lani–“The Heavenly One is Sought”–Composed by Kapoli Kamakau upon the death of her close friend Princess Likelike. Translation by Carol L. Silva.
For anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, these lyrics strum a familiar chord. Kalaupapa: A Collective Memory is a bulky 570-page composition that outlines the history of the leprosy epidemic in Hawaii from 1866 to present day. The book compiles an impressive collection of detailed information, personal stories, letters, pictures, songs and poems, all time-lined in a textbook format.
If there were a course on Kalaupapa, this would likely be its textbook. With its history book-like appeal, fused with intimate pictures and well-documented stories, this book succeeds in personalizing the impact of leprosy in Hawaiian history and follows the mass effect disease plays on a culture and its communities.
It’s organized format makes the book an easy read while its sub-heading chapters allows for readers to begin Kalaupapa exploration at any page. Put simply, Kalaupapa: A Collective Memory is the book on Kalaupapa. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the back stories of Kalaupapa, Hawaiian history, politics and injustice, as well as for those trying to understand and cope with the weight of disease and loss.
[Available at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and uhpress.hawaii.edu.]
MAUI FOR MILLIONS
By Norm Bezane
Voices of Maui Talk Story, Lahaina
132 pages; $9.95
Laura Blears, a hostess at Kimo’s in Lahaina for the last few decades, once appeared nude in Playboy for a pictorial on surfing. Leslyn Mililani Paleka (known to KPOA listeners as “Morning Goddess Alaka‘i Paleka”) once worked as a parole officer in Hilo. Jim Kartes, owner of the Visitor Channel, earned six Emmy awards while working at CBS News and was badly injured by a cop’s nightstick while trying to cover the riotous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Pastor Laki Pomaikai Ka‘ahumanu turned to religion after both a tour of duty in the Vietnam war and multiple drug trafficking convictions.
These are few of the more intriguing discoveries found in writer Norm Bezane’s new book Maui For Millions, which collects a few of his past columns from the Lahaina News. It’s all hagiography, of course–like the paper he writes for, there’s nothing in these pages even remotely controversial or negative. But even a “small book” (as Bezane calls the volume, which is his second) still proves to be interesting.
A visitor to the island since 1969, Bezane and his family moved to the Westside in 2001. His career is a mix of journalism and public relations, and this book (which is self-published) seems a pretty solid blend of both, though with some odd third-person self-love thrown.
“In 2008, he [Bezane] performed the rare trick of being recognized for his work from Hawaii chapters of both the Society of Professional Journalists and the Public Relations Society of America,” Bezane himself writes of himself in a biographical note at the end. “Bezane writes from the perspective of a curious newcomer to the islands and not as an expert on the culture. From the unique point of view of an ‘outsider,’ he feels it is a privilege to learn and to acquire new understanding.”
Still, Bezane’s a good reporter–he sits and listens to people. His questions may be innocuous, but he makes up for that by profiling individuals who hold some measure of authority or celebrity in West Maui. The result is a quick but interesting primer on some of the more notable names in Maui, including musicians Amy Hanaiali‘i, Willie K and George Kahumoku. His profiles of local business owners are less compelling, and readers can easily skip Bezane’s profile of Mike White and Lori Sablas, but hey, it’s his book and he can put in it what he wants.
Still, anyone who’s been on the island at least 24 hours will find Bezane’s book a handy, easy reference.
[Available in paperback at Amazon.com, the Kaanapali Beach Hotel deli and lobby shop, Native Intelligence, the Maui Friends of the Library store in Lahaina and CJ’s Deli.]
THE SPY LOVER
By Kiana Davenport
Thomas and Mercer, New York
303 pages, $14.95
The overall atmosphere of this book is of bleakness and claustrophobia, with stultified lives of few choices. The writing is moving and sharp and gives a striking wallop of reality to the facts of war, discrimination, hunger, loneliness and longing. The author places the story far away and long ago, though it began by studying the ancestry of her own family; Hawaiian, Chinese and Caucasian.
A Chinese boy and his younger brother leave China as kids, to avoid famine and civil war, with a heroic push by their father to “run for your lives.” They walk and forage and hide their way to a port where beckoning sailors are signing on a crew. Exhausted and hopeless, Johnny Tom joins, only to be covered by canvas sacks and rolled to the galley with thousands of other Chinese men and boys, all kidnapped to work sugar cane fields in Hawaii. He ends up on an outer island called Moku Nui, Big Island.
There he meets a “brown-shouldered girl, Mehealani Honohano.” Johnny Tom says, “her name so ha-full I give up! I call her Laughter.” Her laughter, he recalls, sounded like “temple bells.”
He labors in the fields at back-breaking work, but finds some peace with Laughter, until her father hacks his way through the fields to confront Johnny, threatening to cut off Johnny’s testicles for his pregnant daughter’s carrying a “yellow monkey” baby. As Johnny flees on a ship, he sees Laughter on the dock with his baby daughter, waving goodbye.
Johnny Tom goes to San Francisco, where anti-Chinese sentiments are high. He ends up with another wife, Raindance, who is an Alibamo Creek Indian, and his daughter Era, in a Chinese settlement in Mississippi called Shisan. Life is simple enough, after all his struggles. Then a war begins and Confederate soldiers invade and kidnap the men to fight. Most of the Chinese men defect to the Union Army because they have a very clear picture of discrimination and they know what they’re fighting for.
But the Confederates retaliate by returning to the settlement to rape and kill the women and daughters left behind. He is haunted by fear for his daughter and wife. Eventually the story is told from the point of these three characters–Johnny Tom, Era (his daughter) and a Confederate soldier named Warren Rowan Pitticomb. The stifling atmosphere of war, darkness, cold, fear, guilt and the moral questions asked by the characters of themselves all serve to turn the pages, and you will cringe at some of the scenes.
[Available in e-versions and paperback at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.]
TALES & FLUKES FROM LIFE IN THE TREES
By Jim Loomis
Zantar Publishing, Haiku
287 pages, $27
This book is a trip. Seriously. For anyone who knows Jim Loomis, this isn’t at all surprising.
“At last we get to hear from this mind, this physicist of consciousness who has walked naked and splendid into the incredible opportunity that we all call life,” said the writer Paul Wood in a quote reproduced on the back of the book. “Each of his great little tales is a koan.”
Part memoir, part photo album, part poetry collection, the book is all Loomis and all fantastic. Born in California in 1935, he taught mathematics, then moved to Maui in 1970. He recently suffered a heart attack and stroke, he told me when I spoke to him last week, but seems to be recovering.
It’s clear from reading just a few pages that Loomis’ mind spins just a little faster (and a few degrees off) from the rest of us. The result is crisp, living prose that dances and leaps off the page.
“I’m grateful for the typing course I took sixty years ago,” he writes. “And agriculture: my carrot won first prize. Wish I had known then, that was the apex of my career. Apex of a water chimp’s career. Not seaweed, but a carrot, orangeness bursting from the brown soil.”
Somehow, Loomis has managed to distill the entire island of Maui–all its vibrant color and contradictions–into a book that we can hold in our hands (though it is somewhat heavy). It’s an achievement we should cherish.
We hear about Loomis and his young daughter in a sailboat lobbing water balloons at a nuclear submarine off the Westside. We see him at the optometrist trying to talk his way out of having Glaucoma. And we can smell what happens when he eats mangoes with a homeless guy under the Banyan Tree in Lahaina.
Loomis’ book offers not just a new way of thinking about Maui, but a new way of thinking about everything. There are few people anywhere as thoughtful as Jim Loomis, and we’re all richer that he’s given us this book.
[Available in paperback at Savingthecosmostiltuesday.com and on Maui at Puka Puka and Mana Foods in Paia.]
PUBLIC ACCESS TO THE ROADS AND TRAILS OF WEST MAUI
By Jon M. Van Dyke and Maile Osika
North Beach-West Maui Benefit Fund, Lahaina
113 pages, $24
It’s probably best to say at the outset what this book is not. It isn’t a guidebook full of handy tips on how to find secret trails and hikes. It’s not a detailed history of transportation in Lahaina. And it’s not a book you’ll want to curl up with on the beach.
More than anything, this book–penned mainly by the late Jon M. Van Dyke, one of finest legal minds in Hawaii until his 2011 death–is a legal case that strengthened public access throughout West Maui. It’s the first of planned series of books seeking to “expand the base of knowledge and understanding of West Maui’s transportation history, and possibilities for the present and future.” In his forward, Maui attorney Lance D. Collins makes this crystal clear.
“As time passes, the knowledge and recollection of old roads and trails recedes from the memories of the living,” he writes. “This process of change, in part natural and in part the result of rapid development, has been augmented by a long-standing dispute between the State and Maui County over responsibility of old government roads after the State took the best highways out of the county road system and cut county funding for transportation.”
Nonetheless, the book contains an outstanding collection of large, clear photos documenting West Maui’s roads in the earliest years of the 20th century, as well as a series of maps (some well over a century old) showing roads and trails long consumed by the land and land development. It also reprints Martha Foss Fleming’s informative 1933 text “Old Trails of Maui” as well as numerous Hawaii court cases dealing with road ownership.
The text, which analyzes the legal history of roads in Hawaii, can be quite legalistic and thoroughly laced with footnotes.
“Public road and trails in Hawai‘i are held perpetually in public trust until officially abandoned in accordance with State law,” the book concludes. “This means that all public roads, trails, and rights-of-way continue to be owned by the government even if they appear to have fallen into disuse.”
There’s great power in that conclusion (especially for West Maui, much of which is under threat of disappearing beneath home and resort construction) but few without law degrees will see it. Still, Public Access is a tremendous resource for those who want to understand how people got around the island in decades past, and how we might improve travel for future generations.
[Available in paperback at Amazon.com and Uhpress.hawaii.edu. Soon it will be available for $14.99 at Costco in Kahului.]