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Bird of Another Heaven Paperback – April 8, 2008
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*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 Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
for others not of his culture, in their time of stress and disdain...to see him give
Voice to those now deceased and having never been able to express their
views and beliefs. What a calling. What a talent. What a Blessing to some kanaka.
I have much more respect and love for this author and his work. Bird of another
Heaven is slow moving at times, but ever so worth the reading when one gets
to the hypothetical but reasonable (?) inference that possibly (?) one of the mission
boys had King Kalakaua poisoned? Yes, some believed such, but without proof...
one has to let such suspicions go, right?
The western genre, called historical fiction, provides the acceptable vehicle for
giving Voice to the powerless, disdained, under-valued. Wow! In the final
analysis, when we all leave this life for our Maker, we often wish for the
chance to give Voice, however unacceptable, to our experiences and tragedies- especially
when such Voice explains another part of the Story of how a famous
person in history met his End and how his Dynasty came to be Overthrown.
So Mr. Houston endeavors to extend some kind of emotional sense of Justice
to those whose hearts ached at the inability to tell their stories from their own
politically/socially... unacceptable... perspective during Territorial times in
Hawaii? So the descendants of the famous and common, now deceased, can feel some
sort of satisfaction from such a novel? Makes for good reading on a lonely night.
May the souls in their Sleep, rest better (?) in the bosom of Abraham, God Almighty,
and Jesus...for the writing of such fiction.
The US was so horrible to the Hawaiian people - it's amazing they let us visit and welcome us to their islands.
Would recommend this book.
Alternative-radio talk show host Sheridan Brody never knew his biological father. Sheridan Wadell died in the Korean War and his son was brought up by as good a stepfather as a boy could ask for. But when a woman claiming to be Sheridan's grandmother, Rosa Wadell, calls in to his radio show, he can't help but be intrigued.
In addition to pictures and stories of his dead father, Rosa has stacks of notebooks belonging to her mother, Nani Keala, a half Indian, half Hawaiian woman who was a friend and lover to the last king of Hawaii, David Kalakaua. She was a witness to the last days of her mother's tribal culture and her father's Hawaiian nation. She was with Kalakaua when he died in San Francisco and was always suspicious of the circumstances.
Nani was born in one of California's last Indian villages. The place slowly disappeared as elders died and young people moved off to find work and when Nani's parents died she was sent to a rancheria where Indian ways were preserved on a white man's estate.
There Nani lives a dutiful life, helping out in the Mistress' school, agreeing to marry a man she doesn't love. But then a Hawaiian kinsman comes to fetch her to see their king when he visits Sacramento. Her notebook entries are brief, stilted, even shy, but Sheridan fleshes them out with his own research and eager imaginings.
He recreates Nani's father's life, from his days exploring and establishing an outpost in the wilderness with Capt. John Sutter, through the gold rush, and his adoption into his wife's tribe. His exile from Hawaii remains to be explained and becomes part of the fabric of American conquest as the story goes on.
Sheridan imagines how Nani captivates the king with her mixed heritage, her quick mind, her languages. And her beauty, of course. She accompanies him to Hawaii where his extravagant coronation sparks the wrath of the white merchant community who see him as a wastrel. But Kalakaua's aim is to appear as a king among kings, to make his people proud of their island nation, now so encroached upon by the whites.
Houston weaves the history seamlessly into his narrative, illustrating to the reader how European and American greed and self-righteousness informed the times. The U.S. wants a Pacific port, Pearl Harbor, and pressures the king, exasperated by his resistance.
"Peabody's smile was almost derisive. He held degrees from Columbia and Yale. He had practiced in New York and in San Francisco. He saw himself as the voice of right reason and common sense."
"'What am I to do with such a man,'" the king says when Peabody is gone. "'He was born here and his father too. Yet their loyalty is not to me. It is to a roomful of senators six thousand miles away.'"
Nani becomes witness to the demise of her Indian and Hawaiian culture; her great grandson does not even know he has Indian or Hawaiian blood until he's told as an adult and he regards it as something exotic and romantic. This idealization never quite goes away, even when he becomes immersed in the history.
Inspired by the notebooks, the great-grandmother Sheridan envisions is a young man's creation. She is myth embodied, almost a saint. She owns an abundance of love, and is alive to everything, with a rich sexuality and a deeper modesty. Truly a young man's ideal.
His girlfriend, smart beautiful - but with a young son - is not quite so simple an icon.
Houston's writing is beautiful; his word-pictures are mesmerizing. The narrative has a hypnotic effect, fed by the mythical frame of it, the slow inevitable decline for the two halves of Nani's heritage.
In addition, in Sheridan's present, he too fights for cultural survival as his small radio station is swallowed by a conglomerate that will no longer be happy with niche markets. Not on the same scale as swallowing a culture perhaps, but emphasizing, nonetheless, that might and self-righteousness always wins in the end.
A lovely, moving word picture, though maybe a tad too long.
Not long afterward, Rosa Waddell calls Dan while he is on the air to inform him she is his grandmother. He goes to meet her and she shares family stories and her mother's diaries that tell quite a heritage. His great-grandmother was Nani Keala who was the wife of Hawaii's last king, David Kalakaua. Now Dan seeks an audio of his ancestor's regal trip to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
BIRD OF ANOTHER HEAVEN is a delightful tale of a San Franciscan seeking his roots. Once Rosa contacts Dan, the story line becomes one sitting throughout as readers will want to more about his Hawaiian ancestry and that missing tape. This it behooves fans of remarkable family dramas to give this fine novel a chance; once Dan gets started there is no turning back for him or the audience. James D. Houston provides a powerful character study of a soul searching person looking for his unknown heritage.