Moloka‘i Nui Ahina: Summers on the Lonely Isle
By Kirby Wright
Lemon Shark Press; 330 pages; $19.95
Reviewed by Christine Thomas
Published in the Honolulu Advertiser 11/18/07
Viewing the arc of a young life through select formative moments can either add incredible depth or reduce a person to ticks on a timeline. In his second novel, Punahou graduate and author of “Punahou Blues” Kirby Wright tells a young boy’s story exclusively through the lens of summers spent on Moloka`i with his wild grandmother. With few exceptions, life from early elementary age through high school in Kahala, O`ahu is excluded, resulting in only a shadowy sense of Jeff, his brother Ben, and their seemingly indifferent parents, and a story bereft of plot and destination.
The novel works hard to paint a descriptive, undeniably affectionate portrait of rural life on Moloka`i, though it sometimes bleeds into nostalgia. Touching and amusing anecdotes about the boys witnessing a horse’s birth or a transsexual in love with the police chief, end up having just one-off value and romanticize the culture more than add depth. And the pidgin of Julia Daniels, the boys’ coarse yet dedicated grandmother, and other characters is rendered phonetically, a well-meaning attempt to accurately capture local inflection that sometimes ends up reading like a southern accent. The chief narrative hindrance, however, is frequent point of view shifts; at times the book seems narrated with an adult awareness, and at others restricted to childlike observations.
But while as a profound coming of age tale the book may fall short, as a slice of life reflection, Wright’s novel will inform visitors and entertain those who can’t get enough stories of life in the Islands as it once was.