ONO ONO GIRL'S HULA by Carolyn Lei-lanilau


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 A collection of ``chants,'' as the author calls them, that constitutes a post-Tan/Hong Kingston Amerasian anti-autobiography of sorts. Lei-lanilau was born in Hawaii of Chinese Hakka heritage into a home where only English was permitted; not until later in life did she discover the pleasures of the Chinese and Hawaiian languages. As she says at the outset of this confounding journal-memoir, these essays ``represent the metaphors of many languages in and on the author's tongue and hands.'' Bored, confused, and disgusted by English (English is dead, she tells us: ``Just look at the English monarchy''), Lei-lanilau advises that one must embrace disorder, instead: ``I am always be teasing, testing, fooling around with English.'' Her claim is borne out in the varied typography, dialects, and unconventional line breaks she employs here. She justifies her narrativeless technique always in political terms. Embracing the Hawaiian people and their native culture, Lei-lanilau wants to challenge the common view of Hawaii as ``paradise'' and succeeds in her account of working inside a pineapple cannery. She's distrustful of traditional authority``the media . . . and the publishing milieuall that white imprinting,'' she puns, biting with a rather facile impunity the hand that might feed her. An award- winning poet herself, she repeatedly cites William Blake as her hero. While Lei-lanilau's 200-watt brand of radical feminism can be inspiring, her book is just as affecting in its more complex and dappled passages, such as her self-deprecating recollection of returning home from a lackluster night out to find her grown children waiting up for her. If nothing else, Lei-lanilau has the verve of a self only she could create. Maybe she couldn't, and shouldn't, care less whether we like her, so long as we try to understand her. Boldly irreverent, but also reckless and dissipated, personal writing.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-299-15630-3
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1997