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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“They do?”

“Yeah, sure, all the time. Young boys go diving down looking for them, but they don’t always find them all. I happen to know for a fact there’s a quarter buried in the sand around here somewhere. You want to try look?”

He started her searching on the dry sand and just when she was starting to get bored, I saw him slip a coin out of his pocket and bury it into the sand. When Grace found it a few minutes later, she cried out, “Look! A dime!”

“Well, that’s swell,” Duke said with feigned frustration, “but I know there’s a quarter a little farther out.”

He showed her how to use the glass box to view the sandy bottom of the shallows, pointing out frightened little puffer fish burying their heads in the sand and tiny sand crabs skittering sideways like tipsy spiders. Grace began to brave the deeper water without even realizing she was doing it. Duke turned her toward a school of silvery needlefish, slanting below the surface like a torrent of silver rain. When the water grew too deep for Grace to wade in, Duke picked her up in his big hands and gently floated her on the surface. She peered through her glass box at the schools of yellow tangs, blue-green unicorn fish, and black-and-white butterfly fish swarming around the pink coral heads. Grace was so entranced by this colorful undersea world that it didn’t even occur to her to be afraid. And Duke didn’t forget, as they came ashore again, to have her look again for that quarter in the sand—which, of course, she triumphantly discovered.

Grace was never afraid of the ocean again, and from that day on, Duke Kahanamoku was as much royalty to me as Lili'uokalani had been.

As the sun slid below the horizon our new friends invited us over to the gazebo at the end of the three-hundred-foot Moana Pier, where they were joined by Hiram Anahu, another beachboy as well as a talented painter and composer of popular songs.” In the limelight of the newly risen moon the beachboys played ukulele and steel guitar, and sang both traditional Hawaiian standards like “Kalena Kai” and hapa-haole songs like “Honolulu Moon.” Their voices were the sweetest I had ever heard, falsettos blending together in angelic harmony. This was a Sunday night tradition I would be lucky enough to experience again over the years—but I will never forget that first night out on the pier, listening to songs of moonlight and romance, and to the sigh of the tide as the moon tugged on it, its light scattering like daydreams on the waves breaking across the reef. I rested with my head on Jae-sun’s shoulder; Beauty looked adoringly at Panama, strumming his ukulele; Jade Moon cradled her youngest child in her lap as she looked up at the stars, sprinkled like sugar across the black bowl of the sky. These young men with their music and their magical voices were the very embodiment of aloha, of the spirit of the islands; but the true measure of their magic was that as we listened to them, we were not so much transported as transformed.

Because for as long as we listened, reflected in the sweet light of their songs, we were all, every one of us, Hawaiian.

Sundays were always over too soon. The next morning Jae-sun would be up before dawn to make his daily pilgrimage to the O'ahu Fish Market, where limp stacks of bonito, skipjack, yellowtail, and ono, all fresh off the fishing boats, were piled high for inspection. Battalions of restaurant owners and chefs swarmed over the mounds of dead fish, checking for color and texture, hefting for weight and size. I went once with Jae-sun. The place reeked of brine and seaweed, and the sight of so many deceased fish staring at me with open eyes reminded me unpleasantly of the butcher shop next door to Aunt Obedience’s. Jae-sun was always frustrated that he could never find anything resembling mudfish—small minnows that live in the muddy mouths of rivers in Korea. These fish were but three or four inches in length, thin as pencils and usually dark with ingested sediment. Jaesun knew an old recipe for a soup with stuffed tubu—soybean curd—that called for mudfish. First, he said, you placed the fish in brine, which made them—let’s say “eject”—the mud, after which they shined like newly minted coins. They were then tossed live into a heated skillet filled with tubu—where, in an effort to escape the heat, the poor things would dive into the soybean curd, obligingly providing a stuffing for the tubu before expiring.

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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