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by Marisa Dewa

Pub Date: March 15th, 2012

The ghost of a classical musician haunts a young virtuoso in an unconventional literary romance that raises questions about family, unrequited love, and passion.

Dewa’s debut, a brief and brooding tale of love beyond the grave, is at once a story of family secrets, loss, and classical music in a state—Hawaii—not typically known for its fine arts. Mina, a ghost with an indeterminate history, has a stunning view of the island below from her perch atop Oahu’s Aloha Tower, but she mostly wanders, seeking out Hawaii’s finest classical musicians. Once a promising piano sensation, Mina now leads a mysterious existence in a state of earthbound limbo: “I am just trying to find my way and to be honest, I am not sure what keeps me here.” Part of what keeps her there is Daniel Cooke, a boy with a natural ear for music, whom Mina follows day and night to satisfy her unfulfilled passion for performing. Orphaned after his parents died in a car accident, Daniel lives with his aunt Bernice, a respected musician and philanthropist. Daniel is the only person able to see and communicate with Mina, who advises and encourages him until he develops an unprecedented skill and relies on her presence at his recitals. But Mina isn’t the only specter interested in Daniel: Two shadowy figures stalk him for reasons unknown to Mina, and they disappear every time she’s close to understanding their intentions. As the novel zips along in concise, episodic chapters, Daniel grows up and moves to the mainland for college, leaving Mina behind to desperately question her semiexistence. Mina’s hauntingly quiet, metered narration underscores her isolation and longing, which sometimes errs on the side of exposition. Her periodic discourses on the history of classical music in Hawaii, for instance, have an academic quality that adds layers to her passion; but the discourse also undermines the plot at times, particularly in the book’s hasty ending. For all the admirable qualities brevity offers here—such as the author’s seamless, lyrical prose—the novel’s emotional impact feels stunted.

Dewa’s simplicity of style, reminiscent of James’ The Turn of the Screw, makes for a commendable debut effort.