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LIGHT YEARS by Susanna Moore

LIGHT YEARS

A Girlhood in Hawai’i

By Susanna Moore

Pub Date: March 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1862-2
Publisher: Grove

A literary journey through memory to childhood in 1950s Hawaii.

For novelist Moore (One Last Look, 2003, etc.), the sea is a wild, ever-present reality: “It was always there, and I was always in it.” In this mix of memoir and anthology—a stilted, irritating format—the author discusses her distant home, “a ravishing little world…an isolated place, redolent with romance.” Like many writers, Moore read voraciously as a child, borrowing books from the Adults Only shelves at the local library. In 1954, she recalls, Robinson Crusoe inspired her at age eight to build “a lean-to made of palm fronds, stocked with old ropes, carefully-rendered maps of hidden treasure and hemp bags of dried fruit and stale bread.” Robinson Crusoe led her to Treasure Island, which led her to Typhoon. She began to keep a notebook of copied passages from the books she read, most highlighting the literature of the sea. This book is, presumably, a showcase of these discoveries; Moore includes short snippets from (among others) Hesiod, Keats, Thoreau, Woolf, Dickinson and Chekhov, along with, most interestingly, a passage from Isabella Bird’s Six Months in the Sandwich Islands and a tale from “His Hawaiian Majesty King Kalakaua.” The highlights of this short tome are the author’s far-too-infrequent sprints back into her youth. She describes roaming freely through wild country without fences or boundaries, picking guavas, lichees and Surinam cherries when she was hungry, digging up rare ferns for replanting indoors. She had a pet spider; she went everywhere barefoot. She slid down flumes that irrigated the pineapple fields, a forbidden pastime, and after a rainfall used giant ti leaves to sled down the ancient Hawaiian he’e holua slides. Moore grew up in a Hawaiian paradise where ethereal myth and corporeal pursuits commingled. Her book is most delightful when she draws on her memories, disappointing when she quotes disruptively and at length from her favorite texts.

Well written and passionate, though frequently frustrating.