Isn't a Picture I'm Holding: Kuan Yin , by Kathy
J. Phillips with photography by Joseph Singer, 2004, University
of Hawai`i Press, 157 pages, $10.95
The bodhisattva Kuan Yin remains one of the most popular figures in
Buddhism, loved and worshiped throughout Asia for over a millennium.
Arriving in Hawai`i with the first Chinese plantation workers, her presence
has grown in the Islands. In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean temples in
downtown Honolulu and Palolo Valley she towers over worshipers and their
gifts of oranges. Her image, reproduced by the dozens, crowds Thai and
Vietnamese shops there.
Here Phillips and Singer celebrate Kuan Yin's many incarnations in
words and images that exhibit humor, poignancy and for me at least, inscrutability!
An excellent introduction examines Kuan Yin and her place in religion,
legend, art, changing social prescriptions for gender (she started out
as a "him" – Avalokistesvara – in Indian Buddhism)
and the everyday lives of Hawai`i's people. Warning: this is definitely
PELE, True Encounters
with Hawai`i's Fire Goddess, Collected by Rick Carroll, 2003,
Don't read this on one of Snoopy's "dark and stormy
nights" because some of the stories are really chicken
skin kine. Carroll has collected twenty-three fantastic stories
about Pele involved in all kinds of situations. Just a sample:
a visitor in the Volcano House Hotel goes to the restroom while her
husband waits in the hallway just outside. She hears somebody
come in and sees a tall women with long black hair in a white dress
standing at the sink. Upon leaving the restroom, the visitor
sees a picture of Pele on the wall and asks her husband if she is
the owner of the hotel because she was in the restroom. Her
husband says, "nobody went into the restroom except for you." Hmm…
Blue Latitudes is irreverent and witty and it makes you laugh. It's
also been described as "a sneaky work of scholarship" by another
author. That's an apt description. As you cruise along
through this long but fascinating book, it will dawn on you that Horwitz
has put in quite a bit of time doing scholarly research on Captain James
Cook and his voyages. He could have easily produced a big yawner
history book, but he's done exactly the opposite – it was a real "page-turner" for
me. The primary characters in the book include Horwitz, his friend
Roger Williamson (an Aussie free spirit dedicated to wine, women, and
Captain Cook and the colorful Joseph Banks (the Endeavour's Naturalist/Botanist). In
three epic journeys, from 1768 to his death in Hawaii in 1779, Captain
James Cook charted most of the South Pacific, the coast of Alaska, and
parts of Antarctica.
Horwitz constantly plays Cook's reception by indigenous cultures against
his own observations of the same cultures as they exist today. When
you're just about getting saturated with reading about Cook, Horwitz
zings you off to the roughest bar in Alaska, to an interview with the
King of Tonga, or to a rowdy town party in the Australian outback. Cook was a strange and complex person, and so, in certain ways, is Horwitz. They
were made for each other, as it seems, and the synergy really works. By
the time you finish Blue Latitudes , you will feel like you know them
both fairly well.
Fascinating as a biography of the complex Capt. Cook,
as a modern adventure to "romantic" South Pacific islands, and as casual research
on cultural anthropology, this is an exhilarating and fast-paced story. If
you decide to read this saga, be sure to check out it's companion website
at www.bluelatitudes.com. There's also an excellent interview
with Horwitz on the website of Powell's Bookstore in Portland: www.powells.com/authors/horwitz.html.
I'm not sure how to even start describing this book in words because
it's not written for your head – it's written for your heart. Even
though it's in printed form, there is lots of Hawaiian mana (spiritual
energy) here that bypasses your head and goes straight to your heart.
Chicken Soup is about the universal human experiences of love, hope,
faith, endurance, perseverance and transcendence; but from a Hawaiian
This is an especially good read for anyone who is struggling with life
in general, who they are and where they are going (which probably includes
most of us). Many of the stories show how the values of the Hawaiian
culture can be applied anytime, anywhere and by people from any age group.
The book's general philosophy is pretty much contained in a quotation
from Auntie Abbey Napeahi: "I am a Kahuna. Where I come from, I
am considered an elder of my people. I am considered a master of helping
others to identify themselves and find the courage to become all that
you really are. That is the responsibility you have to the rest of your
Family. That is what you can do to contribute to the Earth that is our
All of the stories her are filled with
hope, inspiration and love – qualities that we all desperately
need to successfully navigate and to do more than just survive in today's
insane world. They are a special gift from a unique group of small islands
in the middle of a very large ocean and you won't want to miss a single
one! (Read full review)
Fire, An Anthology of Literature from Hawai`i
There's no better way to gain
exposure to different authors and to different facets of a culture than
to read good anthologies, this one included. There's an interesting story
behind the organization of Island Fire. The first popular anthology of
Hawaiian stories (A Hawaiian Reader, edited by Grove Day) was published
in 1961. In that one, all of the stories written by "native authors" were
relegated to the back of the book because, according to James Michener, "… the
language of these passages is so alien to the modern reader that it might
have alienated the casual reader." We've come a long way in the
42 years since then, because this anthology starts with a Fire Chant
to King Kalakaua, in Hawaiian! There's a wonderful mix of voices and
ethnicities here, including short stories, novel excerpts, memoirs, poems,
songs, chants, a contemporary one-act play and an ancient shape-shifter
legend. I don’t think I need to say any more – it's great!
I don't have much experience reading plays, but I like
to tackle them once in a while. I'm glad that I checked this book out – now
I'd really like to see all of these plays. Kneubuhl is good – she's
one of Hawai`i's finest playwrights and brings a great depth of training
in and understanding of the Hawaiian culture to her writing. There are
3 distinctly different plays here. The first is set in the early nineteenth-century
and charts the lives of five women during the traumatic times following
Western contact. The second is the story of a young woman trying to preserve
her cultural heritage in a Hawai`i that's eager to forget the past and
become "American." The third is a wonderful, humorous "whodunit" with
lots of twists and turns about the issues surrounding the treatment of
indigenous human remains (a topic of concern on the Big Island right
The plays almost read like novellas. In each play, Kneubuhl's flow of
the dialog between the actors and her concept of the play's ultimate
purpose is so clear that you can vividly and easily visualize what would
be happening on stage. As a result, it's very easy to focus on her message.
This is excellent, thought-provoking, fun reading!
Trask is controversial both as an author and as a person. What's
really interesting is that there doesn't seem to be much middle ground – she's
either praised or damned. Many feel that she used/abused her
position as the past Director of the Hawaiian Studies program at the
University of Hawai`i for political purposes. Some describe
her writing as "bravely defiant and full of poetic mana." Others
say her writing style is full of hubris, extraordinarily angry and
shrill. I've found her to be very difficult to read; I haven't
read some of the important parts of her messages because I haven't
been able to get past her bitterness.
like this book a lot. Even though it seems that I'm one of
Trask's despised haoles, I definitely feel and empathize with Trask's
portrayal of Ka `Aina's and the Hawaiian people's pain, agony, loss
and anger at being trampled by colonialism, tourism, the military
and urbanization. "Night is a Sharkskin Drum" is
lyrical, haunting, bittersweet and sensual. It has more beauty
in it than Trask's previous work and maybe even some introspection. As
Sia Figiel says, the poetry is "beautiful and brutal, subtle
and direct." Trask's love for her people and her country
come through clearly here and convey her message to your heart instead
of your head.
I admit that the first third of Theroux’s
book held my interest pretty well, in spite of the superficial forays
into various cultures of the Hawaiian Islands, the totally worn-out stereotypes
and the bizarre sexual exploits. Is it all supposed to be satire? After
that, it started to seem like just a collection of way-too-similar short
stories with a constant theme of weird sex. Perhaps if I had read a lot
of his other travel novels, I’d have a totally different take on this
one. Maybe it’s an “in” novel for Theroux fans. If it weren’t for the
“Hawaiian” characters, it could just as easily be called “Dumpy Hotel,
Anywhere U.S.A.” Maybe that's the whole point?
Here’s another great book
of short stories written entirely in pidgin. Don’t be intimidated
by pidgin – once you get the hang of it after reading the first couple
of stories, you will be zipping right along (after which you can go back
and read the first couple over again)! This is a great book!
There are 13 different short stories, some of which form a series
and some don’t. The subjects are the kinds of things that most all
of us went through in high school or college. You know – hangin`
out with the gang, trying to get the courage up to ask a girl to dance,
dealing with your girlfriend going somewhere else (than where you were)
for the summer, and da kine. Tonouchi gets out some really great
lines in each story. Often, if he uses a pidgin word that you might
not understand, he quickly uses it again in another context to give you
more clues. (Like I ax you las time, you got one Hawaiian dictionary now,
yeah?) One of the funniest stories involves a girlfriend who is
a Star Trek nut. So… Randall and Lea go to da Star Trek convention,
eh. An den Randall says, “I neva know had da kine Oriental Vulcans!
I guess so cuz on Voyager get da Popolo [Black] Vulcan now, so guess nowdays
anybody can be one Vulcan.” And on and on and on. It’s great
There is some social
commentary woven into “da word,” but it’s very skillfully done and usually
humorous. After all, pidgin didn’t exactly come out of the boardrooms
in Honolulu, now did it? So, dat boddah you? Too bad! Jus keeding,
brah – no want beef. This is definitely and “inside job” – written
by a hip author who is fully a part of the culture of which he speaks.
Good stuffs !!
This book isn't
"politically correct" and it explodes the myth of racial harmony
in Hawai`i. Novak knows his subject matter, what with being a world-class
surfer and an English teacher and all. But ..... he's also a REALLY
good storyteller! The blurb on the back cover puts it very well
- this book is "tragic, comic and revealing." (All at
the same time ?? - yes!) It's the story of "Paul Kodak,"
who is sent around Oahu to various schools as a substitute teacher - something
he isn't NEARLY ready for. Thus begins a wild ride through cat-fighting
titas, school politics and "knife-wielding, jive-talking hoodlums-in-training"
that just about turn him into shark chum. Not to mention the encounters
with the god-like Jim Bayley who saved himself from the many horrors of
the Japanese Pacific with his trusty nose-hair clippers. But wait,
I'm getting ahead of myself... In Paul Kodak's words, "After
going one-on-one with the ol' Banzai, life on land just isn't that intimidating."
I'm going to be watching for more books from this guy; he knows how to
"talk-story!" And I almost forgot - it's being made into
a movie. Here's an article about it from the Honolulu
This is an
outstanding anthology !! It includes articles from a very broad
spectrum of Hawaiian writers, both contemporary and historical.
I've never seen a compilation of authors like this one. If you want
to get a good feel for the variety of experience and styles that Hawaiian
authors have to offer, this is THE book to start with. Some of the
authors included are: John Dominis Holt, Katherine Luomala, Rubellite
Kawena Johnson, Samuel Elbert, Mary Pukui, Gavin Daws, A. Grove Day, Yoshiko
Matsuda, Cathy Song, etc. If you haven't heard of some of those
authors, WHERE have you been hiding? (Just kidding - probably on the mainland,
just like me!)
is a very unusual book. It's the story of 5 generations of a Hawaiian
family, from the viewpoint of the reminisces of the matriarch's 4 granddaughters.
It is VERY Hawaiian and fairly feminist. It's also an EXCELLENT
read for anyone who wants to get a real feeling for a Hawaiian worldview!
The magic, mystery and love that is portrayed will remain long after you
finish it. (It also has some very nice, very sensuous passages.)
We highly recommend it.
is another very unusual, and at times disturbing book. It's a collection
of mostly very personal short stories about forgotten corners of
Hawaii. The people and the events in Yvonne's stories often involve
occurrences and human behaviors that are strange to those of us who were
not raised with a lot of exposure to a variety of cultures. Yvonne
was born and raised in Hawaii, so she writes from personal experience,
and from the heart; her stories usually explore human emotions.
If you want to get a feel for the breadth of the Hawaiian cultural experience,
this is a good one.
Even though it tackles some
very difficult subjects, it’s not a “downer” book. It’s very well
written, with an engaging style that holds your interest. Kalili`i
Kaleo (“Sugar”) grows up in a very difficult social and cultural environment
on Kaua`i. One that I suspect is not uncommon to this day.
Her life starts out with poverty, domestic violence and child abuse, which
of course leads right into being attracted to “no-good” men. Despite
all of those obstacles, she becomes elected as the mayor of Kaua`i.
In her role as mayor, she takes on some politically powerful adversaries.
That, combined with the her husband’s greed, lands her in the middle of
a very public bribery trial that threatens to take away both her political
career and her young son. O’Connor switches between the courtroom
drama and flashbacks as a way to fill the reader in on the story of the
rest of her life. There is enough plausible action and suspense
thrown in to get it into the “hard to put down” category (like blowing
up a water aqueduct to a sugar plantation, for example).
There a few things that make this novel a bit
less that it could have been. O’Connor is an outsider when it comes to
the culture he’s writing about (though he did have Tonouchi look over
his pidgin). The cover says “A Hawaiian Novel,” but it’s not – it’s
a novel about Hawai`i and I couldn’t ever quite shake that feeling while
I was reading it. O’Connor throws in some pidgin and some Hawaiian,
but not quite enough to make it totally work. Each chapter begins
with a quotation from a 1930’s book about the sugar industry (“King Cane”
by John Vandercook), but the quotations don’t connect with the contents
of the chapters that I can see. I think they are distracting.
And there is a really glaring editing error on the back cover. The
state motto is written in large lettering but the word “pono” is misspelled
is an interesting book (I know ... "and what does THAT mean?").
It means that I'm not really sure what to say about it. It's well
written, and serves as a good introduction to Hawaiian values and cultural
issues in the context of a Vietnam veteran on a quest for personal validation
and transformation. It has all the elements of that genre, including
a local Big Island "love interest" along with generous doses
of intrigue and drama. It's a"good read" for someone looking
for a gentle glimpse into Hawaiian beliefs and issues by way of a good
story. As far as any real depth about those issues is concerned,
it's a little disappointing. But it's still a good book if you want
a good story with a dose of "Hawaiianess" about it.