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
Born in a tribal village in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Nani Keala is the daughter of an Indian mother and Hawaiian father. In 1881, at age 17, she joins a local group of Hawaiians traveling to Sacramento to welcome David Kalakaua, the king of Hawaii, who is passing through California at the end of his round-the-world tour.
The Words Came
Though the last ones drank until after midnight, they were all up early for the final leg. In skiffs and launches they made a small fleet coasting south with the current, a couple of dozen Hawaiians and mixed-bloods, Indian wives, some children. They pulled into the wharf at Sacramento and from there walked three blocks to the Central Pacific depot. The kings two railroad cars, which had arrived overnight from Denver, had been shunted off to a siding where a crowd had already gathered, curious townspeople for the most part, here to get their first glimpse of a ruling
Nani stayed close to the Kinsman as he ...
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).
Full Review (991 words).
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...
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