BLU'S HANGING by Lois-Ann Yamanaka


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 Yamanaka's giddy, bawdy, and genuinely moving second novel (Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, 1996) concerns three Hawaiian Huckleberry Finns, children left motherless and in poverty, who must fend for themselves against a harsh, indifferent world. When Ella Ogata dies, her husband Poppy vanishes into the drudgery of his menial night and day jobs, leaving 12-year-old daughter Ivah in charge. Ivah knows that everything is falling to pieces despite her efforts to feed the family on white-bread-and- mayonnaise sandwiches, with dinners of cold cream-of-mushroom soup poured over hot rice. Brother Blu is soon grotesquely overweight and drawn to an impressive panoply of local perverts. Little Maisie won't talk and wets her pants in school, where she is humiliated by some self-righteous Caucasian teachers. But setbacks or no, the children manage to create their own, often magical, world--one that is never lacking in energy and ingenuity (expressed in gloriously funny Hawaiian pidgin) and even allies (the kids' butch cousin Bib Sis and her schoolteacher girlfriend Sandi). They survive despite incursions from the feral Reyes family, a half-dozen violent, sex- happy sisters and their dope-dealing incestuous Uncle Paulo, who has his eye on both Maisie and, as it turns out, Blu. The plot turns on a secret that's revealed: Ella and Poppy were child lepers, raised in a remote colony, miraculously cured by sulfa drugs in 1949, afterward bravely (and vainly) trying to join the ``normal'' world--but then things hurtle toward melodrama as Ivah is about to depart for boarding school. Uncle Paulo chooses this moment to rape Blu, an act that leads Poppy to accuse Ivah of abandoning her family. Fortunately, Big Sis and Sandi are there to make everything right. A pungent mix of poetic observation and vulgar reality, and further evidence that a literary Renaissance is brewing out in Hawaii: Here's a novel that rejects exotic gush for an unflinching vision relayed by a unique voice. (For other Hawaii-set fiction, see Pamela Ball and Nora Okja Keller, above.)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-374-11499-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997


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