In this epic, original novel in which Hawaii's fierce, sweeping past springs to life, Kiana Davenport, author of the acclaimed Shark Dialogues, draws upon the remarkable stories of her people to create a timeless, passionate tale of love and survival, tragedy and triumph, survival and transcendence. In spellbinding, sensual prose, Song of the Exile follows the fortunes of the Meahuna family--and the odyssey of one resilient man searching for his soul mate after she is torn from his side by the forces of war. From the turbulent years of World War II through Hawaii's complex journey to statehood, this mesmerizing story presents a cast of richly imagined characters who rise up magnificent and forceful, redeemed by the spiritual power and the awesome beauty of their islands.
The devastating effect of WWII on two Hawaiian families pervades this haunting novel that spans three continents and decades. Davenport (Shark Dialogues) traces the stories of Sun-ja Uanoe Sung (Sunny), a Hawaiian/Korean student from an educated family, and Keo, a native jazz musician, who meet and fall in love in Honolulu in the mid-1930s. When Keo (sometimes known as Hula Man) gets a chance to travel with a jazz band, he leaves Sunny for New Orleans and Paris. His reputation as a genius hornblower blossoms as quickly as racist violence darkens Nazi-infested Europe. Sunny escapes her fractured family life in Honolulu and journeys to join Keo in the City of Light. She revolts against the Nazi brutality she finds there, worrying also about the fate of her clubfooted sister, Lili, who was cast out by their father before Sunny was born. Arriving in Shanghai to look for Lili, Sunny is kidnapped and held captive as a "P-girl," servicing Japanese soldiers. Sunny is selected by one officer for proprietary use; her harrowing plight and that of thousands of other women and girls (some prepubescent) are described in searingly graphic detail. After the war, these women (who've aged several decades for every year of captivity) are too traumatized and ashamed to aid the Allies' feeble attempts at prosecution. There seems to be no real recovery from this level of atrocity, and Keo's story cannot equal Sunny's in intensity. After the war, Keo continues to search for Sunny, mourning and playing music. While the novel's nonsequential structure feels disjointed early on, it gains focus and power as Sunny's story unfolds. In the political maneuvering for Hawaii's statehood in 1959, the two families, bearing their emotional and physical scars, find some form of healing. Davenport's prose can verge on the purple, especially when describing Keo's musical artistry, yet overall she tells a powerful tale of love and loss. (Aug.) FYI: Davenport grew up in Honolulu, the daughter of a native Hawaiian whose ancestors were Tahitians, and a U.S. sailor from Alabama. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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July 04, 2000
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Excerpt from Song of the Exile by Kiana Davenport
RABAUL NEW BRITAIN, 1942 "... SOON THE 'IWA BIRD WILL FLY. HUGE MAMMAL WAVES WILL breach and boom. It will be Makahiki time. Autumn in my islands ..." She sits up quickly in the dark, taking her body by surprise. Her fingers roam her face, a face once nearly flawless. She drags her knuckles down her cheeks. Outside, electrified barbed wire hums. She feels such wrenching thirst, she sucks sweat coursing down her arm. Then carefully she rises, gliding like algae through humid air. She listens for the sea. For that is what she longs for--waves cataracting, corroding her to crystals. From somewhere, gurgling latrines. Even their sound is comforting. A kerosene lamp is steered into the dark. Sunny watches as dreamily it floats, comes down. A soldier's hand, the hand of memory, places it on the floor, revealing a yeasty, torn mosquito net. Inside, a young girl on a narrow bed, so still she could be dead. In watchtowers surrounding the women's compound--twenty Quonset huts, within each, forty women--guards yawn and stroke their rifles. One of them half dozes, dreamily composing an impeccable letter to his family in Osaka. "Mother, we are winning.... The Imperial Japanese Army will prevail!" He is growing thin. In one hut a young girl, Kim, pulls her net aside. Burning with pain, she crawls into Sunny's narrow bed, into her arms, and sobs. Sunny calms her, whispering, "Yes, cry a little, it will help you sleep." "It's hardest when the sky turns light. I think of my family who I will never see again. I want to run outside, throw myself against the fence." Sunny sighs, breathes in the smell of sewage, failing flesh. "Kim, be strong. Think of music, think of books--normal things we took for granted." "I don't remember normal things." Kim scratches at her sordid legs, a girl of sixteen. "I don't remember life. " Sunny shakes her gently, feeling mostly bone. "Listen now. When the whistle blows for mustering, we'll stand up straight, eat whatever scraps they throw. No matter how filthy the water, we'll drink. With what is left we'll bathe. We'll do this for our bodies, so our bodies will know we still have hope for a future." "What future?" Kim whispers. "Two years of this. I only want to die." "Hush, and listen. Death would be too easy, don't you see?" Sunny sighs, begins to drift. "... In Paris now it would be cool. We would stroll the boulevards." Her voice turns dreamy. "We might even take a cab." Kim looks up, asking softly, "Will the drivers be rude again?" "Oh, yes. And my French is so bad. Maybe this night we would go to Chez L'Ami Louis." "Oh! The food is rich, so excellent." Kim momentarily comes alive, for this is her favorite game. Imagining. "What wine shall we order? The house Fleurie?" "And paté. And oysters! Will you dip mine in horseradish, Sunny?" "Of course. And I will scold you when you pocket the matches, such a tourist thing." Her voice softens. She thinks of Keo, their time in Paris. Rocking in lush geometries of morning light, nothing between them but heartbeats. Then spinning under marble arches, through terraced parks, young and careless and exiled. Not seeing Paris collapsing around them, not seeing their lives were crumbling. "How happy we were. Grabbing each moment, so alive." "I have no such memories," Kim weeps. "I never shall." "Of course you will! One day this will end. You will heal. Life will help you to forget." "... Yes. Maybe life is waiting in Paris. Beauty and adventure. And shall we walk this evening down the Champs Elysées? Shop for the softest kid gloves? And cologne? Or maybe take a