Lester Higata's 20th Centuryby Barbara Hamby
“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
“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.
“Oh my this is a very great collection. Innovative in structure but deeply accessible in every pitch-perfect moment, Lester Higata’s 20th Century brilliantly explores the yearning that is central not only to most great literary narratives but also to every life lived on this planet: the yearning for self, for identity, for a place in the universe. Barbara Hamby has for some time been one of America’s finest poets; with this book, she has become one of our finest fiction writers as well.”Robert Olen Butler
“Barbara Hamby loves her characters and trusts them, and it shows on every page of these deeply imagined and beautifully rendered stories. Each story seems like a gift, and the collection as a whole leaves the reader feeling as if these people are his own brothers and sisters, cousins, lovers, and friends, sons and daughters, mothers and fathersone’s own extended familywhich, after all, Hamby seems to reveal, they are.”Paul Harding, author, Tinkers
Meet 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I don't usually read short stories. I like to sink into a book and live it for a while. That said, I really do love intertwined short stories - separate tales with both new characters and characters from other stories in the book. It allows the author to tell us lots of stories but to still have character development of those in the book, even when they are not at the forefront. The author is very adept at this and the collection is a pleasure to read. The characters are interesting and real. Hamby writes beautifully about Hawaii - giving the reader a taste of how wonderful the place is and how living there can be, about how even in the most picturesque places, life is still very real and messy. It was interesting to have the stories go backwards in time - an unusual approach perhaps but it works very well. A great read that I would recommend to anyone who likes beautiful prose, short stories or is dreaming about a trip to Hawaii.