In this superb seventh novel from Yamanaka (Father of the Four Passages, 2001, etc.), the ghosts of children curse the living, and a young woman finds salvation in early-20th-century Hawaii.
Anah Medeiros finds some consolation in being sent to St. Joseph’s to recover from tuberculosis—she can comfort her young sisters Leah and Aki, already there. And at least away from home, she’ll be safe from her brute of a father, a Portuguese laborer who molests her on drunken mornings, and she can escape her Japanese mother’s decline into numb sorrow. Abandoned at St. Joseph’s, the girls are beaten and berated by the nuns who deem them unclean half-breeds. Only Leah has some joy, in the form of ghostly Seth, a dairyman’s son who died tree-climbing on the grounds. Soon, though, Leah dies, as does fierce Aki, leaving Anah alone, but not alone, as she is now haunted by a crying Leah, a violent, naked Aki, a silent Seth and the legions of children who have died at St. Joseph’s, begging Anah to take them home, feed their hunger, find their mothers. Yamanaka creates a heartbreaking portrait of these ghost children, made more wretched when Anah’s father dies, and in his spirit form begins to abuse Aki and Leah. Anah finds a friend in Sister Mary Deborah, who teaches her everything about beekeeping, and Anah finds love in Ezroh Soares, Seth’s brother. When she turns 18, Ezroh steals her away from St. Joseph’s and into marriage, but Seth puts a curse on Anah that all her children will be girls and monsters. Yamanaka’s magical story of Anah is also an uncompromising depiction of a hard immigrant life in Hawaii, of Chinese opium dens and Japanese laborers and Portuguese cowboys and whites eager to tame the lot of them. Finally, though Anah becomes prosperous in the beekeeping business, Seth’s curse holds sway and Anah must sacrifice what she loves best so the crying ghost children can find their way home to God.
Beautifully tragic, this should garner Yamanaka the wider attention she deserves.