Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Lloyd Lofthouse gives Wai-nani a great review
I met Linda Ballou at the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Festival. Later, in an e-mail, she told me it took her twenty years to do the research for this historical fiction and to get it out of the drawer and into the streets. The time Ballou spent on this work shows in the rich details that flow like lava from two of the earth’s largest volcanoes found on the island of Hawaii.
Wai-nani is rich with ancient Hawaiian culture and lore. The main character may be fictional but she is a reflection of Ka’ahumanu, King Kamehameha’s favorite wife, at one time the most powerful person in the Hawaiian Islands.
Today, the Hawaiian Islands may be an incredible tourist destination, but in the 18th century, they weren’t. When the islands were more or less isolated from the rest of the world, the Hawaiian people were often at war with each other and women were second-class citizens who could be executed for daring to eat a meal on the same mat or in the same room as a man. Men could take more than one wife and the rules were strict with death often being the punishment for breaking them. Ka’ahumanu, as represented by Wai-nani in Ballou’s novel, was an early feminist and helped bring about changes that elevated women to be equal with men.
Do not be surprised when you find Wai-nani making friends with a family of dolphins. Some readers may have trouble believing this part of the novel, but I didn’t. Before Christ, the Greeks recorded incidents of dolphins helping and befriending sailors lost at sea when their ships sunk. There are recorded incidents of dolphins still doing this in modern times. There have been stories of dolphins driving fish onto beaches to help feed starving African natives. Therefore, it was easy reading about Wai-nani swimming with her dolphin friends in the ocean.
Wai-nani also chronicles the clash between cultures when Captain Cook arrives in 1779, along with the same European diseases that devastated and killed so many North and South American Indians. When Europeans started to spread across the globe, their viruses and germs went with them and did most of the killing, making it easier for the land grabs that happened later. That tragedy is part of this story, too.
The Hawaiian culture, the characters and the setting are richly detailed. I have never visited Hawaii. It would be nice one day if I had that chance, but if that doesn’t happen, at least I have had the pleasure of being taken to this Polynesian paradise by reading this heavily detailed story.
See Also: Linda Ballou's Website
Linda Ballou's Authors Den Page