Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Molokai story is a first-rate novel
Review by Michael EganSpecial to the Star-Bulletin
"Molokai Nui Ahina" is the best work of fiction to come out of Hawaii in many a year. It's funny, touching, persuasive and unforgettable.
"Molokai Nui Ahina: Summers on the Lonely Isle"by Kirby Wright
(Lemon Shark Press)
333 pages, $19.95
Order via lemonsharkpress.com
Cast as a first-person childhood memoir, Kirby Wright's new novel successfully continues the story of Jeff and Ben Gill, introduced in his coming-of-age novel, "Punahou Blues" (2005). "Molokai Nui Ahina," narrated by young Jeff (aka "Peanut"), describes the long summers the two brothers spend in family exile, year after year, on Molokai with their grandmother, the formidable Grandma Daniels.
Molokai, "The Friendly Isle," transmogrifies into "The Lonely Isle" of the story's title and then later, in the grandmother's words, into "The Godforsaken Isle." The old lady lives in a remote shack, its inaccessibility one of the reasons Ben and Jeff are sent their each summer.
Yet this almost depopulated landscape gradually fills with the richest cast of characters any reader could want. They include the caustic grandma herself, her ex-husband Chipper (who lives nearby slowly pickling himself with alcohol), the violent Duva family, teenage girls who never quite like the boys well enough to fulfill their adolescent hopes, and a variety of horses, deer, waterfalls and mountains drawn from firsthand knowledge of rural Molokai.
Wright's touch is sure and confident, clearly guided by his love of Hawaii and deep knowledge of its culture. Although now living in California, he was born and raised in Honolulu, and like Peanut attended Punahou School. Clearly his spirit has never left Hawaii.
Grandma Daniels dominates the story. She is funny, opinionated, eccentric, sexy, vain, violent and even cruel. The two boys wriggle like worms on the hook of her sharp tongue, desperate to evade her discipline and have some fun as the endless summers drag along. Their clandestine adventures become more serious as vacation succeeds vacation, until gun-toting violence is the air. No one is actually killed, but there are successive moments of anxiety and suspense. In one terrible scene a hunted deer is driven into the sea and mercilessly slaughtered.
Like all good novelists, Wright discovers moral metaphors within his story that are often fresh and unexpected. Hunting, the growth of vegetation, even the island's isolation become occasions for reflection. Keeping pace, Peanut evolves from episode to episode, marking his growing awareness of life's complexities with a series of insights into the baffling grown-up universe.
"For the first time I realized adults could back themselves into corners so remote that love or its memory could no longer reach them," he reflects. But by the end he has come to this truth: "That's when I realized love is a tough, ever hopeful thing, not easily destroyed."
The two brothers leave the story forever marked, for worse or better, by what by the end has become again the Friendly Isle.
Michael Egan is scholar-in-residence at Brigham Young University, Hawaii, and adjunct professor of English at TransPacific Hawaii College. E-mail drmichaelegan@hawaii.rr.com.
Article URL: http://starbulletin.com/2007/09/09/features/story04.html © 1996-2007 The Honolulu Star-Bulletin www.starbulletin.com


Kirby Wright's Signings of MOLOKA'I NUI AHINA in San Diego County:

Wright will appear @ Borders Carlsbad @ 7 pm on Wednesday, Sept. 26th. If you can't make it he will be @ Borders Mission Valley the following night, Thursday, September 27th, also @ 7 pm.

Borders Carlsbad, 1905 Calle Barcelona, Carlsbad, 92009. In the FORUM MALL. Phone: 760-479-0242.

Borders Mission Valley, 1072 Camino Del Rio North, San Diego, 92108. Phone: 619-295-2201.

Wright will give away a free signed copy of PUNAHOU BLUES to the first person who shows up and says, "Your words are lovely, dark, and deep."

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Link to SF Chronicle article:




Kirby Wright, a former Palo Alto teacher with a master's degree from San Francisco State, received "5 out of 5 shakas" in the Aug. 9 edition of Maui Weekly for his second novel, "Moloka'i Nui Ahina: Summers on the Lonely Isle" (Lemon Shark Press, $19.95). For those unfamiliar with the shaka - a friendly hand gesture like the "y" in American Sign Language, but with a wave - it's a good thing, and so is this book.

Part memoir, part fiction, the story reveals another stratum of island society, the rough-and-tumble, ethnically diverse world of rural Hawaii - in this case, seen from the eyes of a hapa haole (part Hawaiian, part white) boy. Raised in relative privilege on Oahu, Jeffrey and his brother, Ben, spend summers on rustic Molokai (Moloka'i in Hawaiian) in the early '60s with their rancher grandmother. In this setting, it's hard to find someone who isn't a colorful character - especially the grandmother's third ex-husband, Uncle Chipper - but Wright's pidgin- and Hawaiian-flecked dialogue is also a delight. The helpful glossary clued me in that if someone tells you to pa'a the waha (shut up), be akamai (smart) and no ack (don't act up).

---Jeanne Cooper, SF Chronicle, Sept. 6th, 2007
San Francisco Chronicle reviews MOLOKA'I NUI AHINA

Check out what the Chronicle said:

If that doesn't work, I'll post the article in its entirety in my next blog.

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