Shark Dialogues, by Kiana Davenport
If ever a book deserved more than five stars, it is this one. Each paragraph flows like a poem, and I found myself reading the same words again and again, trying to absorb all the ideas contained in each line. This is not a fast read, by any means, but well worth taking the time to read it well.
The lines between story and myth blur as this expansive saga follows seven generations of a family in Hawai’i. The often-dark, angry tale begins as “Pono’s girls” are summoned to the Big Island by their 84-year-old grandmother. The four mixed-race cousins, who have scattered across the globe, are united only by memories of summers shared in the home of the fearsome Pono. Now they return to the run-down coffee plantation once again to face the six-foot-tall kahuna with flowing gray hair, who uses a cane made from a human spine and possesses the power to kill with just a look. The reader is then taken back to 1834, as a shipwrecked, one-eyed whaler turned cannibal falls in love with a runaway Tahitian princess. The story then centers around their great-granddaughter, Pono. At sixteen, Pono falls in love with Duke, a pure Hawaiian surfer. Duke contracts leprosy and the two young lovers go into hiding, living like animals in the wild jungles as they are pursued by bounty hunters. Duke is finally captured and imprisoned in the leper colony at Kalaupapa, on the Island of Molokai. The love story between Duke and Pono spans more than sixty years and has to be one of the most extraordinary, most haunting, tales of all time. The reader is brought to the present, as Pono’s granddaughters wrestle with the secrets of their family’s past. They finally learn of their grandfather, who—ashamed of his leprosy—had made Pono vow not to tell anyone of his existence.
This story carries an underlying theme of the racial tension that still simmers just beneath the surface in modern day in Hawai’i. It revolves around the Hawaiian matriarch who, though she despises foreigners, is actually of mixed race herself, granddaughter of an American and a Tahitian. Pono’s daughters marry non-Hawaiians and produce a mixed bag of grandchildren, four of whom become the other central characters in the story. As a non-Hawaiian raised in the Hawaiian Islands, these islands are the only home I know. I have always counted the Hawaiian people as my own. And yet, they will never count me as one of them. I have spent my life studying Hawaiian history, doing my best to understand and sympathize with the anger at the injustices inflicted on the Hawaiians by foreigners—Americans in particular. This book does a good job of shedding light on the political complexities, the rage and frustration that still drive Hawaiian activists today.