Volcano: A Memoir of Hawaii

Volcano: A Memoir of Hawaii

by Garrett Kaoru Hongo
     
 

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Garrett Hongo grew up with a profound sense of estrangement from his past: "Family secrets, evasions, and my own ignorance fed an anger and a desire to know that would not abate." Born in Hawai'i, raised in Los Angeles after the age of six, a fourth-generation Japanese American, inheritor of a recent past more comfortably forgotten than kept alive - for Hongo, the… See more details below

Overview

Garrett Hongo grew up with a profound sense of estrangement from his past: "Family secrets, evasions, and my own ignorance fed an anger and a desire to know that would not abate." Born in Hawai'i, raised in Los Angeles after the age of six, a fourth-generation Japanese American, inheritor of a recent past more comfortably forgotten than kept alive - for Hongo, the "knowing" he so desired would come only when he returned to Volcano, the tiny town where he was born. This beautifully rendered memoir is an account of that journey, finally undertaken when he was in his early thirties: a journey toward the knowledge, about himself and his history, that would give him, at last, "a way to belong and a place to belong to." Arriving in Volcano with his wife and infant son, Hongo settled in a cottage in the rain forest, amidst the "relentlessly spectacular landscape" below the summit of the Kilauea volcano. There, near the general store once owned by his grandfather, among people who quickly recognized the family resemblance in his face, he began to forge a connection to the human culture that, though he was pulled from it at an early age, helped to shape him, and to the living earth that helped to shape that culture. In this way, Hongo - both native son and prodigal son - found his own path into a world where "nothing was without its meaning or its memories." In a powerful narrative interwoven with natural history and laced with luminous descriptions of the volcano and its rain forest surroundings, the author combines childhood recollections with the richness of feeling, image, and information that this journey provided to him: about his own family, about the experience of the Japanese American community at large in this century, and about the relationship of both the inner and outer landscapes to the human imagination. The result is a remarkable, deeply moving "book of origins" - a revelation of the ways in which cultural identity, personal history, and love of place ar

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On visits to and long stays in Hawaii, award-winning Japanese American poet Hongo (The River of Heaven), born in Hawaii but reared in Los Angeles, set out to understand his family and his heritage. Like many immigrant families intent on succeeding in America, his parents brushed aside their child's questions about their past. In his early 30s he visited Volcano, Hawaii, with his wife and young son, renting a cottage near Hilo, where his father had farmed and run a general store. There he felt ``as if I were entering a book about my own life.'' Overwhelmed by the paradisal landscape, ``a visual sonata, lavish and detailed as any jungle fantasy painted by Henri Rousseau,'' Hongo evokes its ecology, geology and ambience as he looks up relatives and friends of his parents, witnesses an eruption of Kilauea, walks on lava beds and through rain forests and visits Honolulu. He interweaves all this with his youthful experiences and puzzlement about L.A.'s Japanese American community, his struggle to become a poet against the wishes of his parents and his astonishment and anger on discovering racial discrimination. This memoir contrasts two worlds and comes to terms with both. (May)
Library Journal
Award-winning Japanese American poet Hongo tracks his roots back to Volcano, Hawai'i, where he was born.
Donna Seaman
Poet Hongo, a Japanese American born on Hawaii and raised in L.A., was estranged from his culture, his homeland, and his family history until he returned to his place of birth. The moment he arrives in the Hawaiian village of Volcano, he feels a bone-deep connection to the sublime lava landscape, the lavish vegetation, and the majestic clouds. And strangers know him by his face: he looks just like his father. He begins his quest for the truth about his past in nature, spending hours hiking and marveling at the island's beauty, but revelation arrives in a far more personal form: an aunt simply tells him the entire tangled saga of his paternal grandparents. The tale itself is startlingly dramatic, spiced with scandal, broken hearts, and abandoned children, but Hongo's compelling, candid, and lyrical manner of storytelling is the real draw. He uses his discoveries in Volcano as a springboard for an analysis of his life, from his youth in racially complex L.A. to his entry into the world of literature and his ongoing struggle with that bane of so many creative people, free-floating angst.
From the Publisher
My favorite kind of book is a poet's first prose work. The poet comes upon a story so large — his life, nature, history — hat he must break out of careful verse into the freedom of prose. William Carlos Williams, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sylvia Plath, Raymond Carver, Louise Erdrich — and now Garrett Hongo."

— Maxine Hong Kingston

"When I finished this brave and sharp story I wanted to start again because of the honesty in the author's voice and the many gifts — beautiful language, vivid and apt anecdotes, a novelist's narrative instinct — that await the reader. Garrett Hongo elucidates here a Dragon; he reveals intelligence as love. And he magics time."

— Barry Lopez

"In this memoir, the village of Volcano is both a place on the map and a beacon in the far more elusive terrain of a man's personal history. In charting that history, Garrett Hongo has produced a lyrical and penetrating work grafting intimate recollection with broad insight. He has aspired to Rousseau's standard for himself — and for all memoirists — to recount comprehensively 'what I have felt . . . and what my feelings have had me do.'"

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780394571676
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/10/1995
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
342
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 8.65(h) x 1.32(d)

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