cover image Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai'i

Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai'i

Garrett K. Hongo. Alfred A. Knopf, $24 (342pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57167-6

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)