Is ignorance really bliss? Memoirist Paul (Fighting Fire, 1998) seeks to answer that age-old question in her fiction debut, based on a true story.
With no newspapers, phones, electricity or transportation system, the private Hawaiian island of Niihau is the last vestige of isolation in the American Pacific. But on Dec. 7, 1941, this world is invaded—not by the bombs that kill thousands on the neighboring island of Oahu, but by a Japanese pilot who lands his fighter plane on Niihau, thinking it uninhabited. Living in this bizarre fiefdom governed by harshly pious owner Aylmer Robinson, the Niihauans are unaware of anything happening off-island, including the world war that has erupted around them. A Japanese-American couple, ranch foreman Yoshio Harada and his wife Irene are the only inhabitants who speak the pilot’s language, hence the only ones who understand the implications of his presence. But because the pilot assumes that the islanders know about the war, he gives the Haradas false warnings about future attacks on Hawaii. This causes the couple to question their identities as Americans, as Japanese and as residents of Niihau. For a week, the island’s peace is disturbed, and the story becomes a microcosm of the war itself. Issues related to race, nationalism, the place of Hawaii in America and the place of America in the world become central to the way the community deals with its strange visitor. Paul offers a refreshing and interesting vantage point from which readers may reconsider this episode in history. But while she does an excellent job of bringing complex questions to the forefront, her characters often seem stereotypical, even robotic, as they contemplate answers.
Flawed allegory of the issues underlying America’s role in WWII.