Short takes on the short list

Books / Synchronous elegance

Akule: Photographs by Wayne Levin
Introduction by Thomas Farber
Hawaii Publisher, 2010

88 pages, $39

In Wayne Levin’s photographs of akule, we wonder at thousands of individuals cooperating in synchronous elegance, without a leader, and without dissent. We concede the possibility that being a Self in the natural world might mean existing not as “stuff that abides,” to borrow Norbert Wiener’s phrase, “but patterns that perpetuate themselves.” We cease to be the hero in our own story and, for a moment, sense the world as more capacious than our isolated subjectivity.

From Frank Stewart’s essay in Akule: Photographs by Wayne Levin (Editions Limited, Honolulu 2010) –Reviewed by Curt Sanburn.

Small Kailua time

If You Live in a Small House
Sandra Park
Mutual Publishing, 2010

200 pages, $13.95

Hawaii’s apparently bottomless appetite for postwar nostalgia is fed this year with a short novel by Sandra Park. If You Live in a Small House chronicles life in a hard-scrabble Kailua household in the 1950s. Park, who has lived most of her adult life in California, dresses her story in the sounds and scents of local Korean life.

The longing practically drips from these pages: Piggly Wiggly, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Canadian Club–even Playboy magazine makes an appearance as a icon of those bygone Territorial days. Still, If You Live in a Small House achieves escape velocity from the sentimentality that often characterizes period novels of Hawaii, largely through an immanent sense of wonder and mystery. The book’s father figure, a veteran of WWII in Europe, didn’t find his way home so easily, and his family longs to be allowed into his secret world of adventure in warfare, and in women. This tension extends to the rest of the multi-generational family, and the novel explores our unceasing explorations, our journeys in search of those we hold most dear. –Ragnar Carlson

The Notorious LUC

Regulating Paradise Land Use Controls in Hawaii
David L. Callies
University of Hawaii, 2010

384 pages, $22

Hey! Want to know how land use really works in Hawaii, but don’t want to deal with the non-stop studying, devastation to your personal life and six-figure debt of a UH law school education? Don’t worry! There’s a book for you!

Written for a quasi-general audience, David Callies’ Regulating Paradise offers a rich and thorough–really, really thorough–education in the competing forces that have shaped Hawaii’s land use laws for more than 160 years.

Callies’ approach is refreshing–can you say “refreshing” about a land-use book?–in that it’s organized thematically instead of chronologically, which makes the book handy as a resource for those interested in the background and dynamics of a particular issue. Important Agricultural Lands, coastal setback laws, ceded lands, public space, historic preservation, the disposition of burial sites–all are detailed here in clear, non-academic language.

Did you know that Hawaii was the first state to enact a statewide land use plan into law? Or that Kapiolani Park is part of a public charitable trust, and that the nine Honolulu City Council members are its trustees?

Regulating Paradise is, yes, more or less a textbook. But it’s one of the most readable and informative textbooks you’re likely to find, and those concerned about development in the Islands would do well to keep it close at hand. –R.C.


Mai Paa I Ka Leo Historical Voice in Hawaiian Primary Materials, Looking Forward and Listening Back
M. Puakea Nogelmeier
Bishop Museum, 2010

246 pages, $16.95

“For the last 10 or 15 years, the immense and proliferating criticizability of things, institutions, practices, and discourses; a sort of general feeling that the ground was crumbling beneath our feet…but alongside this crumbling and the astonishing efficacy of discontinuous, particular, and local critiques, the facts were also revealing something… beneath this whole thematic, through it and even within it, we have seen what might be called the insurrection of subjugated knowledges.”–Michel Foucault

How do we know what we know of Hawaii’s story? What else about our past still waits to be explored? These two questions form the heart of Puakea Nogelmeier’s Mai Paa I Ka Leo, a volume that is by turns a history of literacy, publishing and public discourse in 19th century Hawaii, a historiography of contemporary knowledge about that period and an imagined map toward wider and deeper understanding of Hawaiian history and culture generally.

Deeply informed by post-structuralist academics Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, as well as the postcolonial legend Edward Said, Nogelmeier explores the way the Hawaiian canon, which consists of a mere four writers in David Malo, Kepelino Keauokalani, Samuel Kamakau and John Papa ‘Ii, had come to compose nearly the entire body of Hawaiian historical sources granted legitimacy in academic research. This state of affairs, which Nogelmeier refers to as a “discourse of sufficiency,” served to write nearly all Hawaiian voices out of history.

“The other 99 percent of the Hawaiian published material,” Nogelmeier writes, “is still largely uncharted, but research already shows that it will prove to be a treasury of intellectual, historical and cultural insights.”

While Nogelmeier’s voice is academic and at times unavoidably dense–the book is a reworked version of his doctoral dissertation–Mai Paa I Ka Leo is strongly recommended for all interested in the subject–the need for an expanded understanding of Hawaiian history through deeper investigation of Hawaiian sources and voices– and the context, the fascinating and tumultuous period in island history that is the mid 19th century. –R.C.

Looking the part

Airborne Dreams “Nisei” Stewardesses and Pan American World Airways
Christine R. Yano
Duke University, 2010

256 pages, $22.95

Once, before credit card miles, before airline deregulation, before discount airfares and bring-your-own-lunch, air travel represented the height of sophistication and style. People dressed in their finest to fly over the ocean, there were bars in the upper deck, and the flight attendants were elegant, sophisticated stewardesses. Or maybe they weren’t, really, but they were young and pretty and smartly dressed, and they looked the part, and that was the point.

More than any other airline, Pan Am stood as an icon of the jet age, the era beginning in the 1950s and lasting into the 1970s, in which air travel opened a world of possibilities previously beyond the reach of middle class dreams. A key part of the airline’s appeal was its employment of attractive, “exotic” stewardesses as gateways to the wide, unexplored world.

University of Hawaii professor Christine Yano’s Airborne Dreams explores a fascinating twist on that exoticism–Pan Am’s pursuit of young Nisei stewardesses from Hawaii, many if not most of them working class country girls, to act as ambassadors to what was then called “the Orient.” Nevermind that very few of these women spoke Japanese, let alone traveled there themselves–Airborne Dreams explores the ways these Nisei women found themselves at the center of Pan Am’s ascendancy as an icon of global air travel in the mid-1950s. –R.C.

Golden ear

TinFish 20
Susan M. Schultz, ed.
TinFish, 2010

112 pages, $15

If you pay attention to local poetry, you know what TinFish is: The small press, based out of the University of Hawaii–Manoa offices of Susan M. Schultz, produces chapbooks and other publications featuring experimental writing generally, and poetry and other word-art by and/or about the people, places and themes of the Pacific. Many accomplished poets have been featured in these pages since Schultz began her run in 1995, and this issue marks a turning point. Schultz is headed off on a long sabbatical, bringing TinFish to a halt for at least a couple of years.

Standouts in this volume include Lehua Taitano, a Chamorro poet whose arresting presentation only enhances the haunting, urgent lyricism of her language, and Kai Gaspar, whose “One Good Life” will stay with readers long after its soaring, devastating final lines. –R.C.

Obakes, menehunes and yetis–oh my!

Asian Supernatural
Alex G. Paman
Mutual Publishing, 2010,

228 pages, $18.95

Alex G. Paman’s Asian Supernatural, Including Hawaii and the Pacific is a comprehensive guide to all things that inexplicably raises the hairs on your neck and goes bump in the night.

Those expecting a compendium of ghost stories from the East may be a little disappointed, though. It’s actually more of a reference guide, alphabetically categorizing the various supernatural manifestations and crypto-zoological creatures by region.

For instance, we have short entries on the xian nu of China (a fairy), the tokkaebi of Korea (a horned goblin) and the waira of Japan (a creature that eats kids).

Hawaii is lumped into chapter titled “The Pacific” and there’s entries on such familiar local entities as the akualele (fireballs), the kini akua (little elves) and the dreaded moo (giant geckos of immense size).

A handy cross-cultural index is at the back of the book, divided into various subjects. For instance, if you spot a strange humanoid lizard in Manoa and want to look it up, you would check under the “Giant Reptile” category, stop at “Moo, Hawaiian” and flip to the respective entry.

Or one could simply read Asian Supernatural for the sheer, creepy pleasure. And after Halloween, who knows, maybe this reference tome will come in handy.