Light Years: A Girlhood in Hawai'i


In Light Years, Susanna Moore weaves reminiscences of her childhood in Hawaii with some of her favorite pieces of literature about the sea - excerpts From Robinson Crusoe, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, Kon-Tiki, To the Lighthouse, and many others.
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In Light Years, Susanna Moore weaves reminiscences of her childhood in Hawaii with some of her favorite pieces of literature about the sea - excerpts From Robinson Crusoe, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, Kon-Tiki, To the Lighthouse, and many others.
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Editorial Reviews

Andrew Ervin
It's a lush and beautiful book; her reminisces read in many cases like a series of dreams…Light Years artfully recalls a time when life often felt carefree, even when it wasn't.
—The Washington Post
The New Yorker
When Moore, a novelist, was growing up in Hawaii, in the early fifties, it still took five days to reach the islands by sea from San Francisco. Yet life there for haoles (foreigners) was not unlike that of bluebloods summering in Maine: Moore and her four siblings roamed the landscape at will, while their mother, prone to nervous breakdowns, attempted to outfit them in seersucker shorts. Moore’s recollections are faithful to a child’s purview; she was shocked to learn, later, that “only haoles were allowed to live in the most desirable neighborhoods.” Interwoven in the text are excerpts from Darwin and Woolf, among others, although the most memorable line comes from an early-twentieth-century visitor to Hawaii, who reported that nearly no one was left alive who could play the nose flute “as it should be played, to the excruciation of every nerve in a Caucasian body.”
Publishers Weekly

Moore (In the Cut; One Last Look), born in Hawai'i to a mother plagued by mental illness, recalls the two salvations of her childhood-the sea and books. Lying in the shade of a coconut grove that was said to have been planted by the king in the 19th century, she read Robinson Crusoe, Moby-Dick, Treasure Island, To the Lighthouse. She relished passages about the sea, copying her favorites into her journal and eventually excerpting them here. In her own life as well as her voyages through literature, she knew the sea as a playmate, a menace, a protector and an undertaker. In her youth in the 1950s and '60s, just before jet air travel brought mass tourism to the state, the mysteries of islands dotting the waters awed her, as did the alluring mishmash of cultures and classes (Moore's family were members of the haole elite). Now an island dweller of another sort-a New Yorker-she mourns losing her beloved southern seas, once-constant companions for which the Atlantic is no substitute. Moore's premise is intriguing, and her prose elegant, with quick, vivid sketches of her island girlhood; however, with the inclusion of well over 30 passages of seafarers' musings from canon literature, Moore's memoir makes for an excerpt-heavy read that's regrettably light on her personal vision. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A literary journey through memory to childhood in 1950s Hawaii. For novelist Moore (One Last Look, 2003, etc.), the sea is a wild, ever-present reality: "It was always there, and I was always in it." In this mix of memoir and anthology-a stilted, irritating format-the author discusses her distant home, "a ravishing little world . . . an isolated place, redolent with romance." Like many writers, Moore read voraciously as a child, borrowing books from the Adults Only shelves at the local library. In 1954, she recalls, Robinson Crusoe inspired her at age eight to build "a lean-to made of palm fronds, stocked with old ropes, carefully-rendered maps of hidden treasure and hemp bags of dried fruit and stale bread." Robinson Crusoe led her to Treasure Island, which led her to Typhoon. She began to keep a notebook of copied passages from the books she read, most highlighting the literature of the sea. This book is, presumably, a showcase of these discoveries; Moore includes short snippets from (among others) Hesiod, Keats, Thoreau, Woolf, Dickinson and Chekhov, along with, most interestingly, a passage from Isabella Bird's Six Months in the Sandwich Islands and a tale from "His Hawaiian Majesty King Kalakaua." The highlights of this short tome are the author's far-too-infrequent sprints back into her youth. She describes roaming freely through wild country without fences or boundaries, picking guavas, lichees and Surinam cherries when she was hungry, digging up rare ferns for replanting indoors. She had a pet spider; she went everywhere barefoot. She slid down flumes that irrigated the pineapple fields, a forbidden pastime, and after a rainfall used giant ti leaves to sled down the ancientHawaiian he'e holua slides. Moore grew up in a Hawaiian paradise where ethereal myth and corporeal pursuits commingled. Her book is most delightful when she draws on her memories, disappointing when she quotes disruptively and at length from her favorite texts. Well written and passionate, though frequently frustrating.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802144065
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/3/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

I Oh God! For we were all swallowed up in a moment 1

From Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe Defoe, Daniel 18

From The Discovery of America John Fiske Fiske, John 28

From The Last of the Seris Santo Blanco Blanco, Santo 34

From Sunflower Splendor Po Chu-Yi Po, Chu-Yi 37

II One knows not what sweet mystery about this sea 39

From Moby Dick Herman Melville Melville, Herman 47

From The Voyage of the Beagle Charles Darwin Darwin, Charles 50

From Sir Francis Drake Julian Corbett Corbett, Julian 52

From Typhoon Joseph Conrad Conrad, Joseph 54

From The History Herodotus 62

III The sicknesses are now gone, vanished, expelled, and sailed away 65

From The Golden Bough James George Frazer Frazer, James George 70

From Joseph Conrad Ford Madox Ford Ford, Ford Madox 72

From Death in Venice Thomas Mann Mann, Thomas 73

From Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman Whitman, Walt 75

From To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf Woolf, Virginia 76

From Goethe's Travels in Italy (1786-1788) J. W. Goethe Goethe, J. W. 80

From The Portrait of a Lady Henry James James, Henry 82

IV Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging sea 83

From Rudyard Kipling's Verse Rudyard Kipling Kipling, Rudyard 91

From Tarka the Otter Henry Williamson Williamson, Henry 92

From Poems Alfred, Lord Tennyson 95

From The Kon-Tiki Expedition Thor Heyerdahl Heyerdahl, Thor 99

From The Complete Poems D. H. Lawrence Lawrence, D. H. 104

From Letters Pliny 107

From The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse Anonymous 112

V Say - Sea - Take me! 113

From The Poems of Emily Dickinson Emily Dickinson Dickinson, Emily 120

From The Waves Virginia Woolf Woolf, Virginia 121

From The Legends and Myths of Hawaii His HawaiianMajesty King Kalakaua 122

From The Poetical Works John Keats Keats, John 130

From The Moonstone Wilkie Collins Collins, Wilkie 131

From Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson Stevenson, Robert Louis 133

From Cape Cod Henry David Thoreau Thoreau, Henry David 141

From Notebook Anton Chekhov Chekhov, Anton 145

From The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent Washington Irving Irving, Washington 146

VI Being at sea is so queer 149

From the Letters D. H. Lawrence Lawrence, D. H. 158

From Six Months in the Sandwich Islands Isabella Bird Bird, Isabella 160

From Works and Days Hesiod 166

From The Letters of Rachel Henning Rachel Henning Henning, Rachel 168

From Villette Charlotte Bronte Bronte, Charlotte 174

VII It seems to me: the sea and myself and nothing else 177

Acknowledgements 189

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