Excerpt from Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Alan Brennert

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    Sep 2003, 384 pages
    Oct 2004, 384 pages

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Tears sprang suddenly to Henry's eyes. He thought of the prophecy–made over a century ago by the high priest Ka'opulupulu, who told the ruler of O'ahu that the line of kings would come to an end at Waikiki, and that the land would belong to a people from across the sea. O'ahu was soon conquered by armies from across that sea–Maui and, later, the island of Hawai'i–and now Henry wondered if he were seeing the other half of the prophecy coming true, if soon there would be an end to the line of kings.

As they passed by the casket Henry and Dorothy each grazed the tips of their fingers against the glass, until the grief of those behind them pushed them on, and out.

On the 15th of February, a somber Sunday, the king was finally laid to rest, beginning with a simple Anglican ceremony inside the throne room, as outside a long line of citizens, again including the Kalamas, stood coiled around the palace. At the conclusion of services a long procession of mourners left 'Iolani Palace on a solemn march to the Royal Mausoleum in Nu'uanu Valley. In years to come Rachel would remember only a few of these hundreds upon hundreds of marchers: the torch bearers representing the symbol of Kalakaua's reign, "the flaming torch at midday," now quenched; the king's black charger, saddled backward, the horse's head bent low as though it too understood grief; pallbearers carrying the king's catafalque, flanked by two columns of brightly plumed standard bearers; and the carriages bearing his widow, Queen Kapi'olani, and his sister Lili'uokalani, now Hawai'i's first reigning queen. The moment the king's casket left the palace grounds the air was shaken by the guns of the battleships Charleston and Mohican in the harbor, firing a cannonade in salute, along with a battery emplacement atop Punchbowl Hill. At the same instant, church bells all across the city tolled at once. Rachel clapped her hands to her ears; the noise was almost too much to bear, but she would never forget it, its violence and its majesty. And when the last official members of the cortege left the palace grounds, the procession was joined by those dearest to the late king– his subjects. Hundreds of ordinary Hawaiians who stood twined around the palace now took up the rear of the cortege, a human wreath slowly unfurling itself as the procession wended its way into the green hills above Honolulu.

Rachel understood only that death was a kind of going-away, as when her father went away to sea; but since her father always came back she could not imagine the king would not as well. And so as his casket receded into the distance she raised her hand and waved to him–as she did her father when he boarded his ship and it sailed out onto the open sea, disappearing over the edge of the world.

That moment came, as always, too soon. Papa was home only six weeks before he had to ship out again, this time for San Francisco and, after that, South America. But because he spent so much time away from his children, Henry always did his best to cram six months' worth of activity into the breathless space of one or two, taking them fishing for shrimp in Nu'uanu Stream or riding the waves at Waikiki. The latter had to be managed with stealth and discretion, since Mama had accepted the missionaries' proscription against surfing, seen as a worthless, godless activity; Papa would spirit the children away on some pretext, recover his big redwood surfboard from its exile at his friend Sammy's house, then, one child at a time, paddle out beyond the first shorebreak and instruct them in the ancient art of "wave sliding."

Another day Papa packed everyone up in their rickety old wagon and took off up a winding six-mile road to Mount Tantalus overlooking the city. The road meandered through bowers of stooped trees bent low over the dirt path, the foliage at times so thick it seemed they were driving through a tunnel of leaves, the air sweet and loamy. At a lookout high above the city they sat and ate a picnic supper; Rachel peered down at the green V of the valley, at the doll's houses of Honolulu spread out below that, and at the long sweep of coastline from Diamond Head to Kalihi Bay. Thrilled and amazed that she could see so much all at once, she gazed out at the thin line separating blue ocean from blue sky and realized that somewhere beyond that were the distant lands her father knew–the lands of cherry dolls and matryoshka, moonfaced rag dolls and little yellow amahs.

This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition, at the end of chapter 1. Copyright © 2003 by Alan Brennert.

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