A zesty, if flawed, historical adventure that’s worth a read to witness the love that the author lavishes on his characters...

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KOA KAI

THE STORY OF ZACHARY BOWER AND THE CONQUEST OF THE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS

In this first novel, Pollock takes his hero from humble beginnings in Colonial America at the end of the 18th century to the Sandwich Islands, where he becomes a warrior in the service of Kamehameha the Great, the founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii. 

Zachary Bower is born in a cabin on the frontier of the British colonies, not long before the start of the Revolutionary War. After the death of his mother, he’s sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Connecticut. His uncle Israel is the captain of the Setauket, a far-ranging merchant ship. Soon, young Zachary ships off with Israel’s crew, learning the ropes while heading to Spanish California. On shore leave in San Diego, he gets left behind and impressed onto another ship that’s heading to the Sandwich Islands. Here, the real adventure begins—as if rounding Cape Horn weren’t hair-raising enough. Zachary’s new vessel, the Fair American, is captured by the island’s residents, and only he and the first mate survive. Soon, along with a seaman from their sister ship, they find themselves the captives of the great leader Kamehameha—a well-known historical figure. Zachary, however, is fictional, as is Kaleo, a young Hawaiian who becomes Zachary’s minder and mentor; the comely Pua Lani, who becomes Zachary’s common-law wife, is also a product of Pollock’s pen. As Kaleo and Zachary become close friends, the latter proves to be a fearsome warrior in Kamehameha’s campaign to unite the people of the archipelago.  The descriptions of the fighting are unbelievably savage and bloody, but finally result in sufficient victories and a peaceful interlude. Zachary becomes a father, and he’s accepted among the members of his new society (they call him “Koa Kai,” or “Sea Warrior”), and he’s also found peace within himself. The story doesn’t end there, but suffice it to say that some readers will find the final resolution to be very satisfying, while others may feel that Pollock caved to the temptation of providing a happy ending. The author, in his bio, notes that he’s been “an avid sailor for over fifty years” and his details of a ship’s rigging and maneuvers, and of sailing a vessel through horrendous weather, have the air of verisimilitude. He also fruitfully contrasts Zachary’s straight-laced Christianity with the life of the islanders. For example, Pua, at Zachary’s suggestion, simply agrees to be monogamous and live with him, but Zachary sometimes finds himself struggling with Christian guilt. The sailing scenes are truly riveting throughout, and readers will get a real feeling for the island paradise, with its mix of the idyllic and the brutal. That said, despite the author’s clear investment in this historical material, the text often suffers from idiosyncratic punctuation, as well as erroneous word choices or misspellings, such as “lien-to” instead of “lean-to,” “shuttered” instead of “shuddered,” and “windless” instead of “windlass.”

A zesty, if flawed, historical adventure that’s worth a read to witness the love that the author lavishes on his characters and their adventures. 

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4808-5934-0

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2019

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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