- Paperback: 284 pages
- Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (February 18, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1615817042
- ISBN-13: 978-1615817047
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,380,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Island Song Paperback – February 18, 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
As for the story itself, Garrett arrives in Hawaii in order to write a book about something very painful in his past, but it's his past that he can't escape no matter how far he travels. Song is the man who slowly shows him a better way to live. To say more than that would do the story a disservice since it's Garrett's observations and gradual change that make this story a pleasure.
I had two criticisms. The first, while Chin's descriptions are vivid, they also bring the story to a dead standstill. There's simply too much at times. Finally, "Island Song" went on 18 pages too long. Sometimes the best ending isn't knowing what happens 5 years down the road and, in this case, it takes away from an otherwise wonderful story.
The old kahuna is also weary, ready to pass on the mantle of responsibility, and has previously had his grandson Songaree participate in a ritual involving altered mind states. The purpose is not only to call forth godlike spirits, but to set in motion events that will bring one who can bring change and save the island from itself. With Garrett's arrival shortly after is a catalyst that not only affects the disbelieving Garrett and various locals on the island, but even friends from the mainland, new and old. Young Songaree is a sensitive, kind youth who loves to care for wounded people and animals, and Garrett is no exception. Reaching out to heal this man's spirit, they unwittingly step into a veritable maelstrom that sends the current of fate rippling across the island. Grandfather may be stopping at nothing to fulfil the ancient Polynesian prophecy, but modern prejudices stand in the way and some will stop at nothing to tear the two apart. Will destiny win out in a happily ever after, or has the end come?
I have to admit the premise was rather intriguing to me, and I was rather curious about this title on several levels. Firstly, the whole spiritual aspect drew my attention. I was curious as to how that would play out, and whether or not some fantasy would overshadow the whole affair. I have to say I am actually delighted in how Chin has approached this. While not outright dismissing or validating the ancient Polynesian beliefs, he nevertheless sympathetically portrays the ceremonies and feelings of the participants. It's an objective view, settling for neither side, and it works very well. We get the curious anthropologist come estate agent's views and how it affects her views on local culture and how the locals see and accept her. We also get he local shaman and other native Polynesians and their various views on the matter. We even get the local church pastor, come as a sort of missionary in years past, and his personal views on not only this, but several other issues. It creates a vibrant view of the inner workings of the community, and helps set up the conflict that is fast approaching.
The other thing that piqued my interest was because of the author himself. Many m/m romances are written by women, for women. Alan Chin, on the other hand, is a male, and one that is in a committed relationship with his male partner. I was VERY interested in seeing how this would have the story play out, especially romance wise. I have to say here right now that I discovered I was in for a real treat. Chin's character's emotions play out true, giving a great sense of pathos, longing, and even exuberant joyful passion. He hit all the right buttons for fans of romance. From the exotic yet familiar locale to the almost fantasy like settings at key romantic points in the story, all married to prose that avoided the trite without a single misstep. Make no mistake about it, the man knows how to write; the romance seems to flow naturally and will doubtless appeal to romance fans of either gender. Romance fans would be wise to pick this up, and yaoi manga fans who enjoy light novels should as well. It is not illustrated, but it will grip you enough that you won't miss the pictures. Simply unmissable.
I'd like to thank Alan Chin for providing me with this review copy. You can find out more about the author and his works at Alan Chin's homepage. This book is available both as a paperback (look for the new Dreamspinner edition as it has been updated) and as an Island Song.
The first chapter is one of the most evocative I have read for a long time. An old man chants a plea to the island gods, and as he does the young man with him sees something eerie and frightening, something that may not be there, and he feels brushed by an all-encompassing Power. The old man is called Grandfather by all, and is the spiritual leader of the island. The young man is Songoree, destined for and being trained to walk the same path Grandfather has taken, to take his place eventually. In the same way other faiths have waited for promised leaders, they are waiting the being called the Speaker. He is to be what St. Paul was to Christians. Who he is, where he may come from, whether he is young or old, no one knows. Grandfather just knows that he will come.
In the meantime, Garrett Davidson, a Californian who has never recovered emotionally from the AIDS-related death of Marc, his life-partner, is seeking a place where he can be alone with his grief and the depression that has led to chronic, severe pain in his head. His goal is to write about Marc and their life together. The story of Island Song is one of the physical, mental, and emotional recovery of this man, and his awakening to new love and spirituality. A large part of his recovery is the unexpected and unwanted love he comes to feel for the exuberantly innocent and alive Songoree, beloved by the islanders, and called Song. Never has a character had a more apt name, because his whole being is a song of existence.
However, the author is not one to let the reader rest peacefully on the flow of his prose. Several times, when least expected, something startling bursts to the surface: homophobia, which runs like an undercurrent beneath the story; a startling backstory trip to a San Francisco gay bathhouse; a stunning suicide; a violent bar fight. Chin's facility with description is faultless, whether he is writing about the exquisite beauty to be found below the surface of the sea or relating the grit of life.
I also very much like the way Chin handled the scenes of making love. They were very well done; they were graphic without being gross; they came at the proper place in the story; and they were never thrown in just to be titillating. And best of all they were, truly, scenes of physical love in the fullest sense of the word.
Characterization is mixed. Garrett, Song, and Grandfather are as beautifully realized as figures in a Renaissance painting. You come to know them intimately and they are unforgettable. I wish the character of Audrey had been fleshed out a little bit more, and three of the characters--Owen, his lover Micah the rebellious preacher's son, and Micah's father the homophobic preacher--are close to being stereotypes. Owen and Micah, though likable, seem to always to be scampering holding hands. (They don't, actually, but that's the impression I was left with.)
The only real quibbles are more "quibs" than "quibbles," things that personally put me off a tad. First was the style, which was present verb tense. I have never liked books written in the present tense, but because Island Song is so well done I was able to ignore the tense...until the first flashback. Because the flashbacks were also in present tense, I then became distractingly aware of the tense. The other issue more than likely bothered me because of the "I wouldn't have written it that way" syndrome common to novelists who write reviews. The final two chapters, while pleasant, felt tacked on like an afterthought, and read more like the first two chapters of a sequel. (I hope there is one!) I felt that the last words in the book should have been the end of Chapter 30: "All things begin within the density of silence." That is so profound and so in keeping with the general feeling of the story, it (to me) just seems more apt.
At the risk of repeating myself, Island Song is a wonderful debut novel. I have never left the Midwest, but with his artistry Alan Chin took my heart and mind to Hawaii. Island Song is very highly recommended.
Reviewer: Ruth Sims, author of The Phoenix
Most Recent Customer Reviews
By Alan Chin
5 out of 5 stars
Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, Island Song is a story set amid the clash of cultures, generations...Read more