Arts and Culture

Fiction and Non-Fiction: A Few Favorite Books About Hawaii

My previous blog post contained some suggestions for films and music to increase your knowledge and quell your homesickness for this beautiful place. This time Iʻm sharing a few of the books about Hawaiʻi that I plan to re-read during the next five weeks of the stay-at-home directive.

Books about Hawaii

Two Shark Titles: A novel and a non-fiction book about the history of Hawaiʻi

My copy of Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport is yellowed and annotated, as befits the first printing in paperback in 1995. Itʻs a story of the people of Hawaiʻi, of how the mixing of ancestry and traditions continues to play out in the lives and psyches of contemporary people. For me, it was probably my first real introduction to the power of the Hawaiian language, to the complexities of ethnic identity in Hawaiʻi, and to a level of understanding of its history beyond Michenerʻs Hawaiʻi.

How I imagine the view from the character Ponoʻs coffee farm in Kona mauka

The central character binding the threads of Shark Dialogues is the matriarch Pono, whose four granddaughters spend summers in her house in Big Islandʻs coffee district. The interwoven stories include historical pieces of their genealogies: the arrival of missionaries, sugar and pineapple plantations, and maʻi pākē (leprosy), as the stories take us through the Hawaiʻian islands. The bookʻs title is a reference to the grandmotherʻs ʻaumakua, the shark being the familyʻs guardian.

Kona Field System remnant walls

Archeological sites in Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook, Big Island

For those who prefer non-fiction, or as a deeper dive of the shark so to speak, a more recent addition to my bookshelf is A Shark Going Inland is my Chief by archeologist Patrick Vinton Kirch. Part autobiography, part history, this book was recommended to me by one of my Sellers, whose land listings were once part of the Kohala field system. I was recently reminded of a portion of the history covered in this book during the Grand Reopening Celebration at Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, which contains remnants of the Kona Field System. The chief ʻUmi a Līloa organized the construction of these leeward dryland agricultural systems that revolutionized farming and settlement patterns on the island at the turn of the 16th century.

Times like these remind us of the importance of self-sufficiency when we live on an island. The history of these agricultural lands offers clues for “preservation with purpose” as we move forward.

For Some Light, Fun “Beach Closed” Reading

Book on the Beach

There is a kind of book known as a “beach read.” You know the kind, engrossing but not so serious as to spoil the mood of your vacation. The kind you can enjoy and then leave behind, with no regrets, for the next guest in your condo or cottage.

My pick for your “beach closed” reading: discover the Paradise Crime mystery series by Kauai-born author Toby Neal. Its protagonist Lei Teixera, a young detective, moves around the island chain making both friends and enemies along the way. The dialogue and settings are all “local” to the point of bringing constant smiles of recognition. And the authorʻs Freckled, A Memoir About Growing Up Wild in Hawaii is a gem of a different genre.

If you want to keep going from here, Honolulu Magazines 2018 article “50 Essential Hawaiʻi Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime” should be bookmarked on your computer.

And please donʻt forget to post your book reviews in the comments!

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Denni Keyes

April 5, 2020

Ordered A Shark Going Inland is my Chief from the library. Sounds very intriguing!!! 🤙 Thanks for the recommendations!

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