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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Bird of Another Heaven

Born in a tribal village in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Nani Keala is the daughter of an Indian mother and Hawaiian father. In 1881, at age 17, she joins a local group of Hawaiians traveling to Sacramento to welcome David Kalakaua, the king of Hawaii, who is passing through California at the end of his round-the-world tour.

The Words Came
Though the last ones drank until after midnight, they were all up early for the final leg. In skiffs and launches they made a small fleet coasting south with the current, a couple of dozen Hawaiians and mixed-bloods, Indian wives, some children. They pulled into the wharf at Sacramento and from there walked three blocks to the Central Pacific depot. The king’s two railroad cars, which had arrived overnight from Denver, had been shunted off to a siding where a crowd had already gathered, curious townspeople for the most part, here to get their first glimpse of a ruling

Nani stayed close to the Kinsman as he limped his way toward the side entrance of the first car. His nephew Makua, who went by “Mike,” had taken her arm, as if assigned as a personal escort. He was thickset and sure of himself, and lighter than Nani, with skin the shade of cocoa butter. He leaned down to murmur,“ This is a great day, you know. In Honolulu I have only seen the king from a great distance. They say he is a charming man.”

More islanders stood waiting there, three or four dozen, some with families, called in from nearby ranches and foothill towns and river towns farther downstream. They waved greetings to the Kinsman and his followers, then fell silent as the car door opened.

With no announcement or fanfare, a large Hawaiian stepped out onto the loading platform. He wore a black broadcloth morning coat, sharply creased trousers, a necktie around a high starched collar, but no hat atop his black and curly hair. He sported a moustache and muttonchops. At forty-four he looked ten years younger, a radiant and captivating man with unblemished olive-tinted skin, and his voice a melodious baritone.

Aloha!” he said, with arms raised high. “Aloha kanaka maoli o Kaleponi!” (Greetings to my people here in California!)

While the white onlookers gazed in puzzled wonder, unsure what to make of this, the front ranks of islanders shouted out their loud reply. His voice itself was the sound of their distant homeland.

“Aloha, Kalakaua! Aloha! Aloha!”

In a burst of celebration they were waving, laughing and crying all at once, Nani among them, weeping for her father, who would have relished such a moment. This king was so much like him it was almost too much to bear–the same girth, the same eyes.

Gifts had appeared, to be heaped before him on the platform, flowers, fresh vegetables, a sack of walnuts, a box of apples, a cooked fish on a wooden platter. The Kinsman, who had left Hawai’i thirty years ago and never returned, was wiping his eyes as he stepped forward to chant in Hawaiian an oli aloha, a long chant of welcome.

As his last words dwindled, the celebrants waited for the king’s response, but the king too had to wait, so moved was he by this expression of love, by these gifts, by the sound of Hawaiian, the pulse of the chant. Into this waiting silence another voice rose. It was the cowboy who had composed the song about sailing down to meet the king. He had brought along a battered guitar. He sang five verses, and the king's eyes were glistening. As a fellow composer and performer he clapped in loud applause, urging the crowd to join him.

Hana hou!” the king called out. “Hana hou!” (Encore! Play some more!)

The second time through, others from the river trip chimed in, drawing a wider round of applause, a few hoots and whistles of approval. The exuberant king thanked them for this song and for this welcome. In

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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