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Bird of Another Heavenby James D. Houston
Synopses & Reviews
Born in a tribal village in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Nani Keala is the daughter of an Indian mother and Hawaiian father. In 1881, at age 17, she joins a local group of Hawaiians traveling to Sacramento to welcome David Kalakaua, the king of Hawaii, who is passing through California at the end of his round-the-world tour.
The Words Came
Though the last ones drank until after midnight, they were all up early for the final leg. In skiffs and launches they made a small fleet coasting south with the current, a couple of dozen Hawaiians and mixed-bloods, Indian wives, some children. They pulled into the wharf at Sacramento and from there walked three blocks to the Central Pacific depot. The king's two railroad cars, which had arrived overnight from Denver, had been shunted off to a siding where a crowd had already gathered, curious townspeople for the most part, here to get their first glimpse of a ruling
Nani stayed close to the Kinsman as he limped his way toward the side entrance of the first car. His nephew Makua, who went by Mike, had taken her arm, as if assigned as a personal escort. He was thickset and sure of himself, and lighter than Nani, with skin the shade of cocoa butter. He leaned down to murmur, This is a great day, you know. In Honolulu I have only seen the king from a great distance. They say he is a charming man.
More islanders stood waiting there, three or four dozen, some with families, called in from nearby ranches and foothill towns and river towns farther downstream. They waved greetings to the Kinsman and his followers, then fell silent as the car door opened.
With no announcement or fanfare, a large Hawaiian stepped out onto the loading platform. He wore a black broadcloth morning coat, sharply creased trousers, a necktie around a high starched collar, but no hat atop his black and curly hair. He sported a moustache and muttonchops. At forty-four he looked ten years younger, a radiant and captivating man with unblemished olive-tinted skin, and his voice a melodious baritone.
Aloha he said, with arms raised high. “Aloha kanaka maoli o Kaleponi ” (Greetings to my people here in California )
While the white onlookers gazed in puzzled wonder, unsure what to make of this, the front ranks of islanders shouted out their loud reply. His voice itself was the sound of their distant homeland.
Aloha, Kalakaua Aloha Aloha
In a burst of celebration they were waving, laughing and crying all at once, Nani among them, weeping for her father, who would have relished such a moment. This king was so much like him it was almost too much to bear-the same girth, the same eyes.
Gifts had appeared, to be heaped before him on the platform, flowers, fresh vegetables, a sack of walnuts, a box of apples, a cooked fish on a wooden platter. The Kinsman, who had left Hawai'i thirty years ago and never returned, was wiping his eyes as he stepped forward to chant in Hawaiian an oli aloha, a long chant of welcome.
As his last words dwindled, the celebrants waited for the king's response, but the king too had to wait, so moved was he by this expression of love, by these gifts, by the sound of Hawaiian, the pulse of the chant. Into this waiting silence another voice rose. It was the cowboy who had composed the song about sailing down to meet the king. He had b
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A fascinating account delivered with power, precision, and a generous imagination. There is no better historical novelist working today than Jim Houston." Karen Joy Fowler
"James Houston is a novelist whose work shines with profound humanity. He vividly imagines history, our residence on earth, our racial quotient, the mystery of our fragile human character as though these concerns were fiction's truest subjects." Richard Ford
In a novel that moves back and forth between modern-day San Francisco and nineteenth-century Hawaii, Sheridan Brody, host of a Bay Area radio show, sets out to rediscover a previously unknown side of his family through the journals of his great-grandmother, Nani Keala, a half-Indian, half-Hawaiian woman who became a consort and confidante to the last king of Hawaii. 30,000 first printing.
From the author of Snow Mountain Passage, a saga of the Donner Party, comes a deeply engaging new novel, set in both our time and the late nineteenth century. It centers on a California woman, half Indian, half Hawaiian, who became consort and confidante to the last king of Hawaii.
The story is told by her great-grandson, Sheridan Brody, a Bay Area talk show host, whose life has reached an unexpected standstill. He can’t quite commit—he doesn’t know why—to his Japanese-American girlfriend and her five-year-old son. A corporate merger may soon threaten his job. But when he receives an on-air call from a woman claiming to be his grandmother, Sheridan feels compelled to uncover all he can about this previously unknown branch of his family, embarking on a quest that will change how he sees his future and his past.
What he finds, through the journals of his great-grandmother, Nani Keala (aka Nancy Callahan), and through his own investigations, is an almost mythic tale: how Nani, a shy girl from a remote Indian village, learns English at a local white rancher’s school and meets the Hawaiian king, David Kalakaua, on his grand progress by train across the United States in 1881, and returns with him to Honolulu. There, as his young ally and protégée, ever more assured and charming, she plays an integral role in his attempt to revive the monarchy and spirit of his people and, eventually, witnesses the mysterious circumstances surrounding his downfall.
Bird of Another Heaven is rich in historical scene and character, based in part on actual events. Nani’s life unfolds against the backdrop of the opening of northern California and America’s rising ambitions in Asia and the Pacific during the 1800s. It is also a story of emotional intensity and compassion, equally compelling for Sheridan’s contemporary journey of self-discovery and the beautifully imagined journey of Nani, a woman of extraordinary power and appeal.
About the Author
James D. Houston is the author of seven previous novels, among them Continental Drift, Love Life, The Last Paradise and Snow Mountain Passage. His nonfiction works include Californians; In the Ring of Fire: A Pacific Basin Journey; and Farewell to Manzanar, which he coauthored with his wife, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. He lives in Santa Cruz, California.
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