Excerpt from Bird of Another Heaven by James Houston, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Bird of Another Heaven

by James Houston

Bird of Another Heaven
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 352 pages
    Apr 2008, 352 pages

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English he proclaimed that on his trip across America he had stopped in many places, in Pennsylvania, in Lexington, Kentucky, in Omaha and Denver, but there had been no reception such as this, with such a show of his own people gathered together. Extending his arms and his smile to embrace the entire crowd, he thanked them all for coming to share his time in Sacramento, the capital of the wonderful state of California, a place he loved to visit for the beauties of its mountains and valleys and also because of its strong ties to Hawai’i.

Above the applause came a happy cry from one of the townspeople. “You better come back and see us, then!”

From the edge of the crowd another voice shouted,“But next time stay a little longer!”

Everyone laughed, including the king, and Nani was listening to his laugh, rumbling and resonant and full of delight. It could have been her father’s laugh. His voice could have been Keala’s voice, comforting, as smooth as honey.When the king spoke, it seemed he spoke to her alone. As he waved, ready to make his exit,he seemed to be waving to her.Some turn in the lifting of his hand was like her father’s hand beckoning, and she felt compelled to speak. She didn’t know what she meant to say, but the words came. A profound silence fell upon the yard and the loading dock as Nani’s throat vibrated with Hawaiian words. She stood straight, her chin lifted, and names rolled forth as if drawn out or guided by her hands, which swam in front of her chest like dancer’s hands. It was her family’s genealogy, and the voice speaking was much older than her own.

Kalakaua, poised on the upper step, had stopped in midstride.With one foot inside the doorway he regarded this young woman attentively, transfixed by what he heard. The sound of these names and the music of these words ringing above the railroad tracks of a foreign land, and the look of sweet innocence on the face of one whose voice had such an ancient ring–it filled his heart. When at last her voice subsided, Kalakaua did not move. Nani did not move. She let the tears stream down her face. No one moved or knew quite what to do. Finally he waved again to the silent crowd, then beckoned to the Kinsman, who moved closer for a whispered message. Moments later he and Nani were following the king.

Inside, the royal car was furnished like the lounge of a fine hotel, with carpeted floors, cushioned couches, plush upholstery, velvet draperies, a velvet-topped card table, and at one end a small bar with silver fittings. Near the bar a large white man in military dress had been watching
through parted drapes as the Hawaiians outside began to sing again. Now he approached the king.

“With all due respect, Your Majesty has a meeting in half an hour . . . the State Legislature . . .”

“Thank you, Charles.We will be there. They can’t start without me. And of course you know those gifts outside will have to be collected. It would be an insult to leave them.”

To his visitors the king said,“My chamberlain.”

The Kinsman, overwhelmed by the pomp and royal presence, managed to say,“Hello.”

Nani said,“I’m pleased to meet you,” with a little curtsy that seemed to amuse the king.

“Your Hawaiian is very good,” he said.“And I gather that you both speak English too?”

“Yes, we do,” the Kinsman said.

Once Charles had excused himself, with an impatient smile, stepping through a door and into the adjoining car, the king urged them to sit down. He had a few minutes now.

“I did not expect to hear such chanting in the city of Sacramento. I am curious about your family. Are you this woman’s father?”

“Her father was my cousin and my good friend, but he has passed on.”

Au-we,” said the king, turning compassionate eyes toward Nani. “Perhaps I know some of your people Your father had several brothers. It seems we may have some ancestors in common.”

Excerpted from Bird of Another Heaven by James D. Houston Copyright © 2007 by James D. Houston. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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