From Publishers Weekly
After his fictional treatment of the Donner Party (Snow Mountain Passage
), Houston's superb ninth novel details the life of Sheridan "Dan" Brody, a young Northern California radio host intent on discovering the origins of his shrouded family heritage. Dan's curiosity is sparked after seeing, for the first time, his birth certificate, which lists the name of a father he never knew. Not long after, Rosa Wadell calls Dan's radio show and reveals herself to be the grandmother he never knew about. Through Rosa's stories and her mother's diaries, a clearer picture of Dan's family history emerges. Houston interweaves Dan's life in mid-1980s San Francisco with the Hawaiian tribal legacy of his great-grandmother, Nani Keala ("Nancy Callahan"), a pioneer who learned the Hawaiian ways of life and took her place at the side of Hawaii's last king, David Kalakaua. The two story lines converge as Dan learns of and begins to hunt for a secret audio recording made at San Francisco's Palace Hotel during King Kalakaua's final days. Though it gets off to a slow start, Houston builds momentum as the novel's scope widens, and the historical detail is mesmerizing. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* This carefully developed novel, which pulls readers inexorably into its rich recesses, rests on a theme not uncommon in contemporary fiction: the rather primal urge to know our personal heritage, to understand our forebears as individuals. The specific symbol of that pursuit, in this case, is a royal artifact from the collapsing years of the Hawaiian kingdom before its annexation by the U.S. Like a bolt from the blue, a San Francisco-area radio-show host receives a call from a woman insisting she is his grandmother. Primarily through a multivolume diary kept by her mother, two worlds, two cultures open up to his astonished and absorbent awareness: the final years of the reign of Hawaiian king David Kalakau and a California Indian tribe's shrinking as the nineteenth century comes to a close. Houston, author of, among other well-received novels, Snow Mountain Passage
(2001), uses a technique currently popular in historical fiction: alternating his narrative between a past and present period of time, which serves a twofold purpose--not only ushering readers into a vivid visitation to the past but also drawing meaningful parallels between historical and present-day events, to gain for his readers an appreciation of the past's influence on choices individuals make these
days. Brad HooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved