From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Poet Hamby's fiction debut (after Babel, her latest poetry collection) is a story collection that begins with the last moments in the life of Lester Higata, a second-generation Japanese head of a small Honolulu family, before working backwards through time to unpack his romances, friendships, and personal history against the backdrop of an ever-evolving Hawaii. In the opening story, "Lester Higata's String Theory," Hamby lyrically marks Lester's death as "the house disappeared along with the roads and all the buildings," leaving him "moving through the jungle that had covered O'ahu before it had that name." And while Hamby evokes the peculiar rhythms of island patois and effortlessly conveys the modern and ancient aspects of the cultural and physical environment for a mainland reader, the collection's finest moments deal with the complex work of defining racial and cultural identity, from the prejudices of elderly Japanese in "Sayonara, Mrs. Higata," to the smalltown venom of his wife Katherine's mother, who, in "Invasion of the Haoles," implores her daughter to do the right thing and return to Ohio. Hamby's Hawaii is less than a paradise, more than a postcard, and definitely worth the trip.
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“Oh my this is a very great collection. Innovative in structure but deeply accessible in every pitch-perfect moment, Lester Higata’s 20th Century brilliantly explores the yearning that is central not only to most great literary narratives but also to every life lived on this planet: the yearning for self, for identity, for a place in the universe. Barbara Hamby has for some time been one of America’s finest poets; with this book, she has become one of our finest fiction writers as well.”—Robert Olen Butler
“Barbara Hamby loves her characters and trusts them, and it shows on every page of these deeply imagined and beautifully rendered stories. Each story seems like a gift, and the collection as a whole leaves the reader feeling as if these people are his own brothers and sisters, cousins, lovers, and friends, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers—one’s own extended family—which, after all, Hamby seems to reveal, they are.”—Paul Harding, author, Tinkers