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Reviews of The Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama

The Color of Air

by Gail Tsukiyama

The Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama X
The Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2020, 320 pages

    May 2021, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the New York Times bestselling author of Women of the Silk and The Samurai's Garden comes a gorgeous and evocative historical novel about a Japanese-American family set against the backdrop of Hawai'i's sugar plantations.

Daniel Abe, a young doctor in Chicago, is finally coming back to Hawai'i. He has his own reason for returning to his childhood home, but it is not to revisit the past, unlike his Uncle Koji. Koji lives with the memories of Daniel's mother, Mariko, the love of his life, and the scars of a life hard-lived. He can't wait to see Daniel, who he's always thought of as a son, but he knows the time has come to tell him the truth about his mother, and his father. But Daniel's arrival coincides with the awakening of the Mauna Loa volcano, and its dangerous path toward their village stirs both new and long ago passions in their community.

Alternating between past and present―from the day of the volcano eruption in 1935 to decades prior―The Color of Air interweaves the stories of Daniel, Koji, and Mariko to create a rich, vibrant, bittersweet chorus that celebrates their lifelong bond to one other and to their immigrant community. As Mauna Loa threatens their lives and livelihoods, it also unearths long held secrets simmering below the surface that meld past and present, revealing a path forward for them all.

The Color Of Air

Nori hurried back from the green bungalow to the Okawa Fish Market, across the road from Hilo Bay. One of the two- story clapboard buildings on Kamehameha Avenue, it had formerly been the Hilo Town Bar. She passed the older, two- story S. Hata Building, and the S. H. Kress & Company Building, where all the wealthy haole ladies, whose husbands managed the plantations and ran the banks, came down from their big houses up the hill to have lunch and shop for the latest fashions. The buildings gleamed in their Art Deco newness, both products of the sugar wealth in Hilo town during the past forty years that had kept the town growing, and dimmed all the small family- owned businesses of her childhood. Nori swallowed her rising anxiousness and pushed through the crowded streets. She didn't want to be late to Daniel's party.

Since the stock market crash six years ago, there had been other changes. The once- quiet downtown streets were noisy and restless, teeming with ...

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BookBrowse Review


Flashbacks to the past and multiple perspective changes help to reinforce the characters' bonds both to each other and to the land around them. Initially, this can call for a little patience as you make sense of the many connections between supporting characters and slot everyone into the bigger picture. Once this happens, however, it's a book that is easy to fly through. Offering fascinating insight into a slice of Hawaii's cultural and natural history, and a poignant look at the unique brand of love that endures for the community that raised you, The Color of Air is a novel that is all the more powerful for its understated approach to big themes and ideas...continued

Full Review (513 words)

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(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

There is plenty of interpersonal drama in this twisting tale of love and loss, but the novel’s true joy and beauty come from the intensely atmospheric writing. Tsukiyama’s prose is lush and sensual, fully immersing the reader in this pocket of paradise and bringing the island’s spirits to life. She elevates Hawaii from a simple setting to a character as dynamic and vital as its human inhabitants. An intoxicating blend of historical events and fiction, The Color of Air is a richly rewarding reading experience perfect for fans of Lisa See or Isabel Allende, or anyone looking for a magical love story that transcends time.

Washington Post
In Gail Tsukiyama’s The Color of Air, characters reel in the wake of the Mauna Loa volcanic eruption…Tsukiyama uses this real-life event to great effect, weaving in the beliefs of her characters who think the goddess Pele’s anger caused the eruption…We see that the traditions of Hawai’i need not be subsumed by modernization; Western medicine can coexist with indigenous remedies. We also see that some forms of modernization aren’t simply niceties. In The Color of Air, the beauty is in finding the balance.

Booklist (starred review)
Writing with supple and entrancing grace, Tsukiyama has each of her caring, charismatic characters share their memories and heartache...Tsukiyama also evokes the wild, opulent beauty of the island, the harsh lives of migrant workers, racist and domestic violence, mystical connections, the repercussions of a love triangle, and the tolls of age.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Through tragedy and joy, Tsukiyama crafts characters whose reliance on each other is their greatest strength, with many strong women leading the way...the landscape is rendered with such vibrance that the reader will become fully immersed in the sensory details. Well-paced and lush, this is a captivating historical novel that shows the power of love and human resilience.

Publishers Weekly
Tsukiyama demonstrates a range of descriptive powers, depicting the island’s beauty and the oppressive plantation with equal skill. The story’s rich interconnections are captured through multiple third-person viewpoints and brief sections that revisit the past. Tsukiyama’s rich and beautifully written exploration of the uncertainty of life and the power of community has timeless appeal.

Author Blurb Elizabeth George, #1 New York Times bestselling author
With a piercing and authentic sense of place, Gail Tsukiyama brings to life a group of ordinary Japanese/Hawaiians with intertwined lives that are filled with love, passion, empathy, wisdom, and joy. Life is hard, but it is not hopeless and in the shadow of the volcano Mauna Loa, unforgettable individuals--drawn by the author with tenderness and in vivid detail--contend with the pain and confusion of the past and the fleeting moments of happiness in the present, letting go of both pain and fear in order to meet the future.

Author Blurb Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award
The Color of Air is quintessential Tsukiyama, generous in spirit, gorgeously written, and full of secrets and surprises. Every character in this ensemble novel is as compelling and appealing as the next and together they lead the reader into the beating heart of this tight-knit community. A stupendous work.

Author Blurb Nancy Horan, New York Times bestselling author of Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky
Tsukiyama's beautiful telling of an island son's homecoming had me under a spell to the last page. The Color of Air pulls you in gently and takes you deep.

Reader Reviews

Pat G.

Color of Air
Having been to Hawaii, the storyline was so eye opener to the history of sugar cane and the life led by the multiple nationalities. There was spirituality and great respect shown for the land and for life. Well written and an easy read with excellent...   Read More
Marie McAndrew-Taylor

Gayle Tskuiyama
I always read Gayle Tsukiyama books. Her characters are wonderful. Gayle has a keen sense of place. Community is a major theme in this book. Highly recommend.
Nancy M.

I fell in love with this book
First, of all, I am a big fan of this author. Samurai's Garden is one of my all time favorite books. This book, with it's Hawaiian setting, diverse characters, poignant love stories, swept me away. I read this in one day, and I didn't want it to ...   Read More
K Fox

Totally immersed in place and time
A welcome panacea to the times we are living in is how I would describe reading this story of Daniel Abe, a successful doctor in Chicago, as he returns home to Hilo two years after his mother Mariko’s death. A secret has driven Danial home, though, ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mauna Loa, the World's Largest Active Volcano

Lava flowing on surface on Mauna Loa, 1984Mauna Loa comprises more than half the landmass of the Big Island, the largest in the chain of islands that make up the state of Hawaii. The world's largest active volcano, it stands at 13,678 feet above sea level but reaches an astonishing 30,000 feet from the seafloor. To put this into perspective, this makes Mauna Loa's total height greater than that of Mount Everest, and amounts to such a vast size that the ocean floor actually bends beneath its weight.

Mauna Loa is categorized as a "shield volcano," recognizable for their broad, gently sloping mounds as opposed to sharp peaks. This is caused by high-volume lava flows that travel long distances from the point of eruption, snaking across the earth and solidifying over time to form the...

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