A Search for Literary Hawaii

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It can be difficult to write about a place like Hawaii because everyone knows it is a paradise. For the prose-conscious writer, the state presents a minefield of clichés. These are “sunsets, my twentys, soft breezes,” says novelist Paul Theroux from his home on Oahu’s north coast. “All true. There’s more to it.”

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Too much, actually. Between its extreme geography, dramatic history, and colorful inhabitants, Hawaii, well illustrated, makes for a uniquely fascinating setting for a story. Yet permanent books are rare. For every thousand Hawaiian-set pulp romances and vacation guides, there’s probably a worthwhile literary work. they are books like this keyless house (1925) by Earl der Biggers,
bone hook (2009) by Ian T. Macmillan, and Sharks in the Time of Saviors (2020) by Kawaii Strong Washburn. There are also several Hawaiian-set short stories by Jack London, and some by Somerset Maugham.

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Fresh on that list is Theroux’s new novel, Under the wave at Waimea, Published in April via Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The Long Book follows Sharkey, an Oahu big-wave surfer, as he struggles with aging, losing his “stoke”, and following a fatal car accident on a rainy road toward Waimea Bay. This is a terrifying, haunting read. like Hotel Honolulu (2002), Theroux’s other Hawaiian-set novel, the book explores the darker corners of Hawaii: drug addiction, class divides, the homeless, gossipy locals – which visitors ignore.

“This place is very divided,” Theroux says. “You have different microclimates, religions, ethnic groups. Each of these situations has its own island – it is island upon islands. I didn’t expect any visitor to understand this. But when you live here, you see it’s like that.”

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Theroux, 80, most famous as a travel writer, Penn Waimea From a local point of view. Their beautiful home sits on a mountain overlooking Waimea Bay. Gabbling pet geese roam the backyard, which leans toward their writing cabin, all surrounded by giant bamboo trees. It is the famous North Shore, “the edge of the known world”, as described in Waimea, “The full extent: beyond it was the unreadable ocean, the strange land.”

Theroux spends about half a year here; Summer is for Cape Cod. When he doesn’t write, he gardens, tours the shooting range, or paddles his outrigger canoe (his 1992 travelogue, Happy Island of Oceania, Detail of a trip through the South Pacific via kayak.)

Theroux never appeared. “My experience of surfing is purely as an observer,” he says, barefoot in the shadows on his back porch, tossing cookie scraps to red-crested cardinals. “Most of my friends are surfers. The roofer is also the surfer. So is the plumber. If the surf’s up, they don’t come.”

Language, and its indicative power, has a theme Waimea, As in real Hawaii. Locals often speak Pidgin English, also known as Hawaiian English Creole. Language and identity are common themes throughout Hawaiian literature.

It has a special significance in Milton Murayama’s 1975 poignant novel, All I’m asking for is my body, Which follows a family of Japanese Nisei laborers on a Maui sugarcane plantation during World War II. “Whenever someone spoke fluent English outside school, we would stun them, ‘You think you’ hole, Eh?'” notes teen storyteller, Kiyoshi Oyama.

Immigrants have always made Hawaii—even natives came from elsewhere in the South Pacific, around 400 AD—and this theme is another common theme throughout literature. In the 19th century, waves of workers labored hard in Hawaii’s extraction industries, first in sandalwood, then sugarcane, rice, and pineapple. Hawaii became a melting pot of the Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, and American mainland. Plantation workers were poor, largely living in isolated huts. Racial animosity was common.

Yet, for visitors, Hawaii was, as always, a magnificent statue. Mark Twain spent four months there in 1866, when it became known as the “Sandwich Islands”, a title given by Captain James Cook, the first European to write about Hawaii. In Twain’s Slim Volume, Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands, He considers Hawaii “the loveliest fleet of islands anchored in any ocean.”

“No foreign land in the whole world has any deeply strong attraction to me, but that is,” Twain wrote, nostalgic, 20 years later. “No other land could have bothered me for so long and with so much insistence.” He never returned.

About two decades ago, Herman Melville toured. His travels are described in Typi: A Glimpse into Polynesian Life (1846). 26 year old who will be born moby dick, There were critics of foreign missionaries, who sought to impose a Western lifestyle on the native population still grappling with the arrival of foreign capital and industry.

“What [the native] To desire the hand of civilization?” he writes. “The once smiling and populated Hawaiian Islands, now with their diseased, starving and dying natives, answer the question. Missionaries may try to hide the matter of their own accord, but the facts are irrefutable. ,

Theroux, who has written about 10 short stories set in the islands along with his two Hawaiian-set novels, says he has finished writing about the kingdom. “All of that is my contribution to Hawaiian literature,” he says. “I have nothing more to say.”

best hotels to study

Sensei Lanai:

Located in the misty foothills of Nanhi Lanai, not far from Maui, this newly launched resort offers a range of health and wellness options, from mountain biking to meditation. Recommended reading places: Relax at one of the many hot springs on manicured tropical grounds.


An oasis of serenity in the Waikiki Strip, this new, small hotel combines privacy with upscale modern opulence. Recommended reading places: In your hot tub on the patio overlooking Kuhio Beach.

This article appeared in the December 2021 issue of Penta magazine.


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