Excerpt from Honolulu by Alan Brennert, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Alan Brennert

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  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 368 pages
    Feb 2010, 464 pages

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Kim Kovacs

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Back then there were still only a handful of hotels on the sand, the largest being the Moana Hotel. At the height of the tourist season—winter and summer—Waikïkï Beach was crowded with visitors, but during the offseason there was more room for families like ours, from less affluent parts of the city, and my family and I would often enjoy the beach in the company of my Korean “sisters” and their families. In the fashion (and law) of the day, the men wore one-piece gray woolen swimsuits and the women were even more ensheathed, in knee-length bloomers and blouses with absurdly long sleeves. But we had no idea at the time how ridiculous we looked, and spent the day swimming and picnicking, listening to the soft, low beat of Korean hourglass drums played by Mr. Ha, or singing along to the sweet, melancholy melody of our nation’s most beloved folk song:

Arirang, Arirang
Walking over the peak at Arirang,
The sorrows in my heart as many as the stars in the sky.

Yet there was no real sorrow in us as we sang it, only a wistful nostalgia for a homeland that was slowly being supplanted by our new life in Hawai'i.

By this time Wise Pearl’s keiki numbered four, while Jade Moon struggled to keep her brood of five out of trouble on the beach. The widowed Beauty still had only Mary, who was fast growing into a lovely girl with a heart-shaped face and sparkling brown eyes.

Harold, almost four years old, loved the water and couldn’t spend enough time swimming in the surf, but Grace, older by two years, was mortally afraid of the ocean and recoiled from the foaming waves lapping up the beach as if from the spittle of a rabid dog. Two-year-old Charlie was indifferent to the water, more interested in building sand castles, which he then would demolish with the zeal of a wrecking crew. “Boom! Boom! Boom!” he declared as his fist shattered a cylindrical tower the same shape as his sand pail. “No roof! No roof!”

Harry, meanwhile, had become captivated by the distant figures—out beyond the first shore break—who seemed to be standing atop the billowing waves, riding them in to shore: “Momma, how are those men doing that?”

“They call that ‘surfing.’ Look closely and you can see the men standing on long boards, like those over there.” I pointed to the towering fifteen-foot surfboards propped up against the wall of the Moana Hotel, down the beach.

Mesmerized, Harry gazed out at the surfers and declared, “I want to do that.”

“Perhaps when you are older,” I said.

“I want to learn now!”

“You are too small. A wave like that would toss you so high into the air you’d never come down!”

Harry regarded me skeptically. “No, I wouldn’t. Would I?”

“Well . . . maybe not never.”

He looked smug. “Didn’t think so.”

“You might come down after six or seven days. But you know, there’s nothing to eat or drink up there. You’d come back pretty hungry and thirsty.”

That seemed to sober him and, chastened, he went back to playing in the placid waters closer to shore.

I tried to coax Grace into the water but she would venture no farther than ankle-deep. In truth, despite all the love Jae-sun and I had lavished on her, Grace seemed to suffer from many of the same insecurities I had been plagued with as a child. Even after a year in school, her teachers said she was anxious and “lacked confidence.” Perhaps it was an inherited characteristic. But as I had succeeded in overcoming my fears, I was determined to help Grace do the same.

Excerpted from Honolulu by Alan Brennert, Copyright © 2009 by Alan Brennert. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, 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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