Jack London in Paradise

Paul Malmont’s Jack London in Paradise is a perfect combination of biography and literary fiction, with a dash of armchair travel. Focusing on the final year of London’s life, Malmont weaves London’s troubled history with Hawaii in its first years of annexation by the United States. The novel begins as filmmaker Hobart Bosworth is searching for London, in the hopes that the writer will give him an exclusive screenplay to film, which would save his debt-riddled movie studio. Bosworth finds London in Hawaii, distracted from writing and struggling with his past. London is studying mythology to sort through the anguish of his memories, from the childhood curse supposedly placed on him by a spirit (according to his his mother) to the recent arson at his utopian Beauty Ranch in California. The writer finds solace in Hawaii, where native Hawaiians hold tight to their now illegal customs and to a queen still sitting on her powerless throne. Mainlanders are coming ashore in droves to pillage the land they find so exotic. Both London and the islanders seem dazed in response. Through all of this, Malmont shies away from dramatic moments — when a sugar plantation field hand is severely burned, his final fate is later alluded to in cagey dialogue. But Malmont is at his best in the quiet moments between characters. The accounts of London’s “wave sliding” with Duke Kahanamoku, a legend in his own right, simply sing. Malmont does an excellent job of capturing America’s fascination with both London and Hawaii and the eventual exhaustion that so much attention brings. Moreover, he treats Hawaii with care and love — the moist, warm Hawaiian air is nearly tangible, and the native Hawaiians posses a mystery both Malmont and his hero seem to take pleasure in unraveling.