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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Charlie, meanwhile, was constructing a rather elaborate sand castle, in which I now recognized some disturbing shapes—not just the familiar pailshaped towers, but a kind of cupola with suspiciously similar proportions to a rice bowl I had brought to the picnic. I now discovered that while my attentions had been focused on Grace, Charlie had ransacked the picnic basket and dumped the rice into a sandy grave, along with the kimchi I had packed in a tall jar that he used to make an admittedly impressive sand-tower. I made my displeasure known, and only after I had finished scolding him did I suddenly realize that someone was missing. Where was Harold?

My annoyance with Charlie was quickly replaced by panic over Harry.

He was a good swimmer, but even so I anxiously searched the rolling surface of the ocean for some trace of him. I looked up and down the beach, toward Diamond Head in one direction and the Moana in the other, but still no Harry. I told myself to remain calm, trying to think of where he might have gone; and then I noticed again the pile of surfboards stacked up beside the Moana. After placing Charlie and Grace in my husband’s care, I hurried down the beach.

The Moana Hotel was a large, modern white building with plantationstyle verandahs facing the sea. On this autumn day the beach was populated mainly by local residents, surfers, and a handful of Moana guests: pale flabby haoles gleaming with coconut oil, looking and smelling like haupia pudding as they sunned themselves in beach chairs. I saw no sign of Harry on the grounds of the hotel. I looked seaward, where a handful of surfers wearing dark tank tops and trunks were serenely gliding atop cresting waves. When a surfer with skin as bronze as a new penny came ashore with his board, I went up to him and asked, “Excuse me, but—have you seen a little Korean boy? About four years old?”

The surfer looked over my shoulder and said, “Is that him?”

I turned to see another surfer riding a low swell in to shore, a small boy perched on the prow of the long board like a hood ornament on a Model T.

“Momma!” Harry called out, never happier. “Look! I’m surfing!”

I ran to him as the surfer beached the board and told him, “Uh-uh oh, jig’s up. Everybody off.” Harry obediently jumped off, into the shallows. I gathered up my son in my arms, so happy to see him that I barely chided him for going off alone. “Harry, you nearly scared Momma to death!”

The surfer on whose board Harry had been riding—a broad-faced Portuguese-Hawaiian with a few front teeth missing from his smile—looked at me, then at Harry and said, “Kid, you’re a spitting chip off the old block.”

In all the years I was to know this man, I was never sure whether his scrambled metaphors were accidental or intentional clowning.

“Sorry,” he apologized, “my fault. Your boy came up, asked if I could teach him to surf, so I offered him a ride.”

The other surfer grinned and said, “See, the keiki follow Panama around ’cause they know another keiki when they see one.”

Panama expressed mock indignation. “If that ain’t the Tarball calling the kettle black!”

“Hey, I may be short,” the one called Tarball said, “but Panama’s so short, other day he got beat up by some kid smaller than Harry here.”

“She was not,” Panama shot back, and they both exploded into laughter.

I soon learned that these amiable watermen with the colorful names were among a select group known as “beachboys,” who served visitors to Waikïkï in a wide variety of capacities: surfing instructors, outrigger canoe pilots, island tour guides, drinking companions, and occasionally companions of a different sort for mainland wahines who could not help but be impressed by their charm, athleticism, and exotic good looks.

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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