A first novel unfurls like a brilliant flower

Literary / The unlikely but convincingly drawn journey of a Kauai-born singer from small-kid time to New York and then, at the heart of this first novel, to Salzburg–just before the Russian tanks approach the city in l968–is catalyzed by her love of music. In Aloha, Mozart, as Maile Manoa progresses from Hawaii child entertainer to a 26-year-old classical performer on the cusp of international success, so does her understanding of the world outside and the intricacies and ironies of success in a culture shadowed by both Mozart and Hitler, moving from high art to the ironies of politics, passions and slowly-unveiled secrets.

As the novel deepens from a coming-of-age tale to a sophisticated story seeking to explain how understanding and talent are nourished and challenged by cultural complexities, Maile’s sojourn reveals the hidden currents of psychological truths, as applicable to Hawaii as to Old Europe. We experience Maile’s deepening sensibilities as a singer and human being. (Kauai’s Waimea Williams spent a decade in Austria and Germany as an opera singer.)

As readers of Williams’ memoir Aloha, Kauai can testify, she is a real writer, able to shape material dramatically and emotionally, leaving a vivid imprint in the mind of the reader. The unique experiences of the writer and her main character are compelling both as story and revelation of psychological growth: Maile Manoa comes alive as she becomes aware of the ironies and buried truths in island, mainland and European civilizations–the relationship between simple music and high art, the costs and benefits of having powerful men and women as mentors and complex friends.

Williams’ true range comes to full flower in a scene in which Maile first encounters Professor Jann, a mentor of great talent and sensitivity who nonetheless wonders if this singer has the character demanded of a great performer, and whether she has been adequately prepared by her success in Hawaii and New York. Her progress has to be made through a series of grueling singing competitions, step by step upward. Finally, at the pinnacle of certain success, Maile is confronted by a dilemma she could not anticipate.

At the thematic center of her story, we read on as the beautifully written conflict envelopes her, and wonder, as we are meant to, what will be the nature of Maile’s choice.

Aloha, Mozart

Waimea Williams

Luminus Books, Oct. 2012

Paperback, 280 pages