The Columbia Spectator is doing a series, every Thursday, on “a list of 50 books that we think capture the essence of each state, all while telling a great story along the way.”
We have already learned that To Kill A Mockingbird best represents Alabama. Then we moved to Michigan and contemplated whether Eugenides’s Middlesex wouldn’t have been a better choice than The Virgin Suicides. North Dakota‘s pick was Peace Like A River by Leif Enger and Alaska‘s pick was a collection of short stories by Nancy Lord entitled The Man Who Swam With Beavers.
This week we travel to Hawaii!! From my Minnesotan perspective, this is a great choice right about now!
Photo by laszlo-photo
I have not read Melanie Jones’s pick — Heads by Harry by Lois-ann Yamanaka, so I will let her speak for herself:
Heads by Harry is one of the few novels about Hawaii that doesn’t mention surfing, tiki dancers, or anything else typically, and often wrongly, associated with the islands. Toni Yagyuu is the middle child and a consistent disappointment to her parents—her brother, Sheldon, is more interested in becoming a hairstylist than the man of the house, and her sister, Bunny, is fast becoming the family diva. Toni has two wishes—to be apprenticed by her father in his taxidermy shop called, of course, Heads by Harry; and to win the heart of Maverick Santos, resident heartthrob.
Photo by lylamerle
Lois-ann Yamanaka is exceptionally gifted at making the unusual and unsavory seem exotic and entrancing—taxidermy is “true art, not a painting or poem, inaccurate and prone to interpretation, but breathing life into flesh drawing breath.” She also renders the Hawaiian landscape as something beyond simply lush. Instead, it is a land full of diverse elements and peoples. There are “the forests of Pana’ewa full of invisible tigers … the smell of rock cookies and sweet potato manju … the expanses of sugarcane fields and macadamia nut trees.” This landscape is populated with clueless haoles (white foreigners), immigrants, wily locals, and the local wildlife, which is far from isolated from its human cohorts. While boar-hunting, Toni spies someone “ravag[ing] the soft pubic earth of earthworms and slugs, the sandy sod caught in a delicate system of roots, a littoral memory.” Details like these are what make Yamanaka’s work not a typical story about a feisty girl striving to be accepted, but a story that could only take place in the land of kukui trees and the Mauna Loa mountains.
Sounds interesting! Now I wish I could find a way to read it IN Hawaii… Oh, and the capitol is Honolulu…
Photo by Airton kieling