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Lester Higata's 20th Century (John Simmons Short Fiction Award)

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Lester Higata's 20th Century (John Simmons Short Fiction Award) Cover

ISBN13: 9781587299186
ISBN10: 1587299186
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

“Lester Higata knew his life was about to end when he walked out on the lanai behind his house in Makiki and saw his long-dead father sitting in a lawn chair near the little greenhouse where Lester kept his orchids.” Thus begins Barbara Hamby’s magical narrative of the life of a Japanese American man in Honolulu. The quietly beautiful linked stories in Lester Higata’s 20th Century bring us close to people who could be, and should be, our friends and neighbors and families.

Starting in 1999 with his conversation with his father, continuing backward in time throughout his life with his wife, Katherine, and their children in Hawai‘i, and ending with his days in the hospital in 1946, as he heals from a wartime wound and meets the woman he will marry, Hamby recreates not just one but any number of the worlds that have shaped Lester. The world of his mother, as stubbornly faithful to Japan and Buddhism as Katherine’s mother is to Ohio and conservative Christianity; the world of his children, whose childhoods and adulthoods are vastly different from his own; the world after Pearl Harbor and Vietnam; the world of a professional engineer and family man: the worlds of Lester Higata’s 20th Century are filled with ordinary people living extraordinary lives, moving from farms to classrooms and offices, from racism to acceptance and even love, all in a setting so paradisal it should be heaven on earth.

Never forgetting the terrors of wartime—“We wake one morning with the wind racing toward us like an animal, and nothing is ever the same”—but focusing on the serene joys of peacetime, Lester populates his worlds with work, faith, and family among the palm trees and blue skies of the island he loves.

Synopsis:

Never forgetting the terrors of wartime—“We wake one morning with the wind racing toward us like an animal, and nothing is ever the same”—but focusing on the serene joys of peacetime, Lester populates his worlds with work, faith, and family among the palm trees and blue skies of the island he loves.

About the Author

Barbara Hamby was raised in Hawai’I and is writer-in-residence in the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University in Tallahassee. She is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Babel and All-Night Lingo Tango. She is also co-editor of the poetry anthology Seriously Funny. Her work has appeared in the Paris Review, Mississippi Review, Southwest Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology 2001 and was recently awarded a Guggenheim fellowship.

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reader richard, August 4, 2010 (view all comments by reader richard)
Not every author has the fortitude to start a collection of stories with a story about the death of the title character. Hamby is to be applauded for this, it's gutsy! It isn't extremely successful, though, beacuse the unspooling of Lester Higata's life from 1946 to 1999 is unevenly presented and unevenly edited, as quite some several of these stories appeared in other venues before being collected here.

The very best story, the chef d'ouevre, is the delightful, fresh, energetic story of Lester's last day: "Lester Higata's String Theory Paradise." Waking up to a conversation with your dead father, one in which he bashes your equally dead Gorgon of a mother, is a pretty good clue that the rest of the day isn't going to be normal. And it is, oddly, very normal in its events and yet Lester's certainty that this is his last day on Earth manages to make all its events sharp and clear and dear to him. It's an excellent story. It's no surprise to me that this story appeared in TriQuarterly and was edited by the superb, talented, and very accomplished Susan Hahn. She impressed me mightily in our one professional contact, when she bought a story from one of my then-clients in my former life as an agent.

Well, I said the collection was uneven...and the next story, "Iniki Chicken", is proof of this. In and of itself, it's not a bad little piece, but it needed a pruning before being put in the show. It appeared in Southwestern Review, which magazine has a decent reputation, but the piece has an overwordy quality that detracts from Hamby's clean and simple message: "Looking at all the people gathered around the table, I wondered how so many different faces could be made in the image of one God? Maybe the Hawaiians were right, and there were many gods: {there follows a list of four gods and their areas of expertise, taking up a long paragraph}...But if there was only one God what could he possibly be like?..." A taut meditation on the nature of spiritual belief and its relationship to human interaction becomes a comparative religion lecture, and loses force and clarity. SO frustrating!

The strong stories outnumber the weak ones, fortunately: "Mr. Manago's Mango Trees" is bleak, but wryly witty; "Lani Dances the Zombie Hula in LA" is a spare, cold-eyed flensing of the way promise gets transmogrified into failure and misery; "Sayonara, Mrs. Higata" pitilessly shows the too-late-ness of deathbed regrets, and the hollow-yet-shining face of Duty's Daughters; and "Lester Higata in Love" is heartbreakingly tender and beautifully rendered, its landscape of love's losses and joys as mountainous as O'ahu itself.

The University of Iowa press sent this ARC to me as part of the Early Reviewers program. It's a pleasure to be able to recommend the collection to any reader even slightly interested in the geography of love.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781587299186
Author:
Hamby, Barbara
Publisher:
University of Iowa Press
Subject:
General
Subject:
Short Stories (single author)
Subject:
Stories (single author)
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
1
Series:
Iowa Short Fiction Award
Publication Date:
20101031
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Pages:
184
Dimensions:
9 x 5.5 x 0.5 in

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Lester Higata's 20th Century (John Simmons Short Fiction Award) New Trade Paper
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Product details 184 pages University of Iowa Press - English 9781587299186 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by ,

Never forgetting the terrors of wartime—“We wake one morning with the wind racing toward us like an animal, and nothing is ever the same”—but focusing on the serene joys of peacetime, Lester populates his worlds with work, faith, and family among the palm trees and blue skies of the island he loves.

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