FROM THE LANAI by Jessica Kawasuna Saiki


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The 17 stories in Saiki's second collection (Once, A Lotus Garden, 1987--not reviewed) center on Japanese-Americans in Hawaii before and during WW II. Included is a lot of vivid landscape, making for an intimate glimpse into the relationship between social custom and sense of place. The pieces all sketch out the expectations of a tightknit community where outsiders nevertheless are often active. "Oribu" is about a cook, for instance, who enters the employ of a wealthy family and comes to discover the husband's "Wandering Hands" before fleeing. Likewise, in "Learning," a naive girl applies for a job as an "artistic girl" and is nearly seduced before escaping, preserving her innocence. In "Portraits," an Ace Photo man runs out of luck and loses a commission when he allows a client's daughter to become too friendly with him in a community where the walls have eyes. "Mitsuko's Wedding" is a blow-by-blow account of a mother's elaborate preparations for her daughter's Shinto ceremony, which is anticlimactic after the exhaustive prenuptial ceremonies. The title story Finishes strongly with a woman's discovery of a Japanese neighbor's unknown pregnancy and childbirth. "Miki/Mickey" is about a doctor's only child who decides to be a star: after having her features Americanized, her life becomes more and more grotesque and violent until it ends in a grisly fashion. "Twilight" is a delicate rendition about a man who comes to discover, in a moving epiphany, that not only does he know nothing about his lover but that he also doesn't know his own family. Gossip and ordinary occasion, as well as portraits of the occasional haole (mainlander) and eccentric, fuel this collection: it covers its specialized territory with Çlan.

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