Books

Works that are by people who live in, or are about, or set in, or lightly touch on or at least hold some sort of tenuous connection to Hawai‘i!
Books /

Something fierce

Fierce Heart: The Story of Makaha and the Soul of Hawaiian Surfing

Stuart Holmes Coleman

St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2009, 301 pages, $24.95

You don’t have to be from Hawaii to love Hawaii. But you do have to love Hawaii to pour yourself into telling stories about this place the way Stuart Coleman does. Coleman’s latest book, Fierce Heart: The Story of Makaha and the Soul of Hawaiian Surfing, published this year by St. Martin’s Press, is an intimate look at the culture and history of Makaha and the many local legends who have called it home. The book paints a portrait of the intensely local Westside town and is filled with lively anecdotes of its residents. Coleman takes readers into the ocean with Buffalo Keaulana (including a diving trip that ended with him punching a Tiger shark in the nose), onstage with Israel Kamakawiwoole and on the World Tour of surfing with Rell Sunn. Fierce Heart also includes plenty of heartfelt remembrances of those who have passed, details Sunn’s battle with breast cancer and the tens of thousands who showed up at the State Capitol to say goodbye to Iz. While Coleman focuses on the exceptional talent, warmth and passion for life that so many from Makaha have exuded, his book is truly a testament to all of those who love Hawaii, and proof that he is among them.


Wayne’s world

Under Maui Skies and Other Stories

Wayne Moniz

$14.95, Koa Books, 135 pps.

Author Wayne Moniz has been dubbed the “Dean of Maui Playwrights,” by the Maui News. The 2005 Cades Award for Literature winner has a new collection of short stories in various genres, all expressing Moniz’s “love for the land and people of Hawaii.” While the text is in English, the titles, including that of the book, are in both Hawaiian and English. Bold-lined ink drawings by David Sandell give a nostalgic moments life before the reader dives into each new story. With love, detective, adventure, war, science fiction and ghost stories packed into a conveniently sized paperback, even those tired of reading literature about love for the ‘aina can find something scintillating.


Green buddha

The Wisdom of Sustainability: Buddhist Economics for the 21st Century

Sulak Sivaraksa

Koa Books, 101 pps.

In his previous book, Sulak Sivaraksa put forth the Gross Domestic Happiness scale, arguing that it measured a country’s well being more than the Gross Domestic Product does, as money is not the sole dictator of a country’s condition. The rebel, who has been critical of the royal Thai family and other figures of authority, continues to advocate radical societal restructuring, calling globalization “free-market fundamentalism” and asserts that the term modernization is a coded term for Europeanization.

With the trend of books integrating Eastern philosophies into other areas of contemporary life, it’s easy to want to write off Sivaraksa’s work. However, Sivaraksa has two Nobel Prize nominations, a Right Livelihood Award to his name and even the Dalai Lama’s praise to ward off potential criticism that he might just be looking to profit off Eastern mysticism. The Wisdom of Sustainability emphasizes small-scale, indigenous and sustainable alternatives to globalization through Buddhist principles and personal development. Education reform and moral governance are a few of the areas the Sivaraksa examines.


Translating history

Nuremberg and Beyond: The Memoirs of Sigfried Ramler from 20th Century Europe to Hawaii

Sigfried Ramler

Ahuna Press, 128 pp, $25.00, [sigramler.com]

A disclosure: when I started teaching at Punahou School in 1991, Sigfried Ramler was already a living campus legend. Tall, angular, slim and crowned by a wave of silver hair, Sig strode across campus like winged Mercury, adopting a pace that his younger colleagues found difficult to match, much less sustain for any length of time.

During his 44 years at Punahou, Ramler had a profound effect on the school’s curricula, its orientation to the larger world and on the students themselves. If the school shaped the early life of a future president, Sig Ramler has been instrumental in shaping Punahou School. His book, Nuremberg and Beyond, not only documents Ramler’s outstanding work in global education and teaching tolerance, it unveils the wellsprings of those interests.

The book begins with his early life in 1920s Vienna, the son of Jewish parents. After the Nazi’s destructive Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish pogram of 1938, the United Kingdom offered refuge to Jewish children–as long as they arrived unaccompanied. At age 14, young Sig found himself traveling alone to London on the Kindertransport to apparent safety. Safety was short-lived: during the war, he experienced the Blitz first-hand as well as the V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks.

After the war, his facility with languages brought him to one of the defining moments of his life: the Nuremberg trials. Working in the new field of simultaneous translation, Sig came face to face with the war’s great criminals: Göring, Hess, Höss, and Hitler’s architect, Speer. A meeting with a pretty Hawaiian-Chinese court reporter, Piilani Ahuna, led eventually to marriage and a journey to Honolulu and, finally, Punahou.

The book is lavish with photos of the times and seeded with sidebar sections that provide historical context to the biography. It is a book, certainly, for those who have known Sig Ramler, or who have a connection to Punahou, but it will be especially interesting to all for its insider’s look at one of the great moments of justice in modern times: the Nuremberg trials.


Girl, interrupted

Lucky Girl

Mei-Ling Hopgood

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $23.95, 244 pps.

It has been observed that book cover designs for works by Asian female authors are often relegated to motifs of flowers and other exotic Oriental images, almost regardless of the book’s content. The cover for Mei-Ling Hopgood’s memoir, Lucky Girl, is no different, with its bold red Chinese watercolor flower peeking out from the corner and a baby picture of Hopgood encircled by another bold red traditional Chinese motif.

If one can get past the tired design, however, one will be rewarded with a true story about Hopgood’s covert trans-racial adoption by a white Midwestern couple from her biological Taiwanese parents. After having lived a thoroughly white bread life, completing a degree at the University of Missouri and landing a journalism job with a Michigan newspaper, Hopgood’s biological family, the Wangs, contacted her in her early twenties, wanting to meet. What followed was a happy growth of a family, but also a painful exploration into the Wang’s dark and complicated family history and Hopgood’s subsequent identity crisis.

Those unfamiliar with adoption stories will find Hopgood’s memoir to be eye opening. Those a little more acquainted with the issues broached in the novel will find Hopgood’s writing to be genuine and clear.


Drama in old Hawaii

The Last Aloha

Gaellen Quinn

Lost Coast Press, Fort Bragg, 375 pages, $17.95

Gaellen Quinn’s first novel explores the shifting tides of loyalty and passion in late-19th century Honolulu. With a sharp eye for detail and what one feels is a very good ear–or at least a very convincing one– for the cadences and tones of both the haole and Hawaiian aristocracy of that period, Quinn offers a tale of discovery and intrigue that holds the reader’s interest almost from the first page.

Laura Jennings arrives in Honolulu from San Francisco to live with missionary relatives. She is curious about the ways of this unfamiliar land and is quickly chagrined to find her hosts among those plotting against the kingdom. Leaving her relatives behind, Jennings falls in with the royal family and is soon at the center of fast-moving events. The familiar trope of naïve-young-woman-finds-nobility-among-the-savages-and-learns-something-in-the-process lurks dangerously near the surface for the first few chapters here, but gives way to a more nuanced portrait of a kingdom’s final breaths.


Edenic species

Waking Up in Eden

Lucinda Fleeson

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 320 pages, $23.95

At age 44, longtime Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Lucinda Fleeson hit a dead-end. Confronted with the emptiness of her professional future, Fleeson had also tired of “the happily-ever-afterdom of suburban Phildelphia,” where “for most of my neighbors and peers, lawyer husbands and above-average children had replaced the circle pins and penny loafers we had worn with brutal conformity as teenagers.”

Hey, why not move to Hawaii? And so she did, taking a job with a mad genius of sorts at Kauai’s National Tropical Botanical Garden. Waking Up in Eden is the story of that adventure, and of the effort to preserve Hawaii’s unparalleled botanical bounty from looming extinction.

If Fleeson’s book is a bit uneven on the former point–the journey of personal discovery in paradise is beyond played-out, and Hawaii readers will likely not be overwhelmed by the author’s appreciation of local culture, which is spotty at best–it is a great success on the latter. As a work of what might be called contemporary natural history and as a study of the politics of botanical conservation and preservation, Waking Up in Eden is a truly original contribution.

It’s also a highly readable one–Fleeson’s prose, like the best journalism, is clean and compelling, and she succeeds brilliantly at laying out a complex set of issues and challenges without ever losing the reader. Don’t read this one to see the Hawaii you already know–Fleeson may be malihini, but sometimes it’s the newcomer that gets to the heart of issues that the reast of us all-too-rarely discuss.