From the author of Snow Mountain Passage, a saga of the Donner Party, comes a deeply engaging new novel, set in both our time and the late nineteenth century. It centers on a California woman, half Indian, half Hawaiian, who became consort and confidante to the last king of Hawaii.
The story is told by her great-grandson, Sheridan Brody, a Bay Area talk show host, whose life has reached an unexpected standstill. He cant quite commithe doesnt know whyto his Japanese-American girlfriend and her five-year-old son. A corporate merger may soon threaten his job. But when he receives an on-air call from a woman claiming to be his grandmother, Sheridan feels compelled to uncover all he can about this previously unknown branch of his family, embarking on a quest that will change how he sees his future and his past.
What he finds, through the journals of his great-grandmother, Nani Keala (aka Nancy Callahan), and through his own investigations, is an almost mythic tale: how Nani, a shy girl from a remote Indian village, learns English at a local white ranchers school and meets the Hawaiian king, David Kalakaua, on his grand progress by train across the United States in 1881, and returns with him to Honolulu. There, as his young ally and protégée, ever more assured and charming, she plays an integral role in his attempt to revive the monarchy and spirit of his people and, eventually, witnesses the mysterious circumstances surrounding his downfall. Bird of Another Heaven is rich in historical scene and character, based in part on actual events. Nanis life unfolds against the backdrop of the opening of northern California and Americas rising ambitions in Asia and the Pacific during the 1800s. It is also a story of emotional intensity and compassion, equally compelling for Sheridans contemporary journey of self-discovery and the beautifully imagined journey of Nani, a woman of extraordinary power and appeal.
Bird of Another Heaven starts a little slowly but picks up momentum as the two parallel stories converge. Although it never quite reach the heights of Snow Mountain Passage (pun unintended!) it is nevertheless an excellent historical novel that highlights new aspects of the well covered settlement of California, and will take most readers to places new in its exploration of the history of Hawaii. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
San Francisco Chronicle
The author’s admiration of and eloquent sorrow for the inexorable destruction of inherently graceful and spiritually rooted alternative ways of life are both characteristic and affecting. Akin to his characters, Houston seems committed to an honorable memory of what has gone before.
Washington Post - David Treuer
Houston has given us the story of a lifetime, filled with characters who are posed, not animated. Without an author willing to break the bones of historical fact to extract the marrow, all we are left holding in our hands is a soulfully and sensitively produced diagram of those bones, not a story that contains their true meaning.
A distinguished successor to Houston's superb fictionalization of the Donner Party ordeal, Snow Mountain Passage (2001), and compelling evidence that he's one of the best historical novelists working today.
Though it gets off to a slow start, Houston builds momentum as the novel's scope widens, and the historical detail is mesmerizing.
Although the dialog is sometimes strained, and character reactions often play to the overdramatic rather than the subtle, these are minor irritants in a strong and compelling read that fills a gap in the historical fiction of Hawaii.
Booklist - Brad Hooper
Starred Review. A vivid visitation to the past…pulls readers inexorably into its rich recesses.
James Houston is a novelist whose work shines with profound humanity. He vividly imagines history, our residence on earth, our racial quotient, the mystery of our fragile human character as though these concerns were fiction’s truest subjects.
Karen Joy Fowler
A fascinating account delivered with power, precision, and a generous imagination. There is no better historical novelist working today than Jim Houston.
James D. Houston is the
author of seven previous novels
and a number of nonfiction works
including Farewell to
Manzanar, which he
coauthored with his wife, Jeanne
Wakatsuki Houston. Since 1962, he
and Jeanne have lived in Santa
Cruz, within view of Monterey
Bay, where they raised their
three children. They currently
live in a Victorian house once
owned by Patty Read, a survivor
of the Donner Party who appears
in Houston's novel
Snow Mountain Passage.
Houston says he had a similar
experience to "Dan" when, after
many years, he found out that
his grandmother, "a very sweet
fundamentalist Christian lady,
born in the Appalachians in the
1880s" moved to Alabama in 1900
Growing up in idyllic Honolulu in the 1890s, Rachel is part of a big loving family until she is forcibly removed from her family and sent to the isolated leper colony on the island of Moloka'i. True to historical accounts, Rachel's life, though shadowed by disease, isolation and tragedy, is also one of joy, courage, and dignity.
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