29 Must-Read Local Books You Won’t Want to Put Down This Holiday Season

Epics, eras and albatrosses—we’ve got your book-lover gift bases covered.

1. In the Time Before Light

by Ian MacMillan

In the time before light
photos: david croxford and aaron k. yoshino

In most historical fiction, we’re sexier, braver, more aristocratic and immortal.


Ian MacMillan’s breathtaking and propulsive novel, however, features a lower-caste kanaka maoli whose first day as a would-be teen warrior ends with his family and village slaughtered by members of a neighboring valley. Then we live through Pono and his family’s decadeslong struggle to survive under the whims of ali‘i, kāhuna and warriors.


Saved by pirates who launch his second career as translator and, eventually, storyteller, Pono is witness to the arrival of the Europeans and the rise of King Kamehameha. Grimly enthralling, the novel is an oath-brother to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.


It’s also a grand send-off for the late MacMillan, author of 12 books and professor of writing at the University of Hawai‘i for 40 years. Local author Robert Barclay edited the book in 2008 with the rapidly fading MacMillan, who had gone for cancer treatment in New York. “I told him I was thinking of starting a publishing company,” Barclay says, “and he said, ‘Here, take this.’” Barclay went on to found Lō‘ihi Press, making MacMillan’s trimmed-down book—which lacked chapter breaks, since added—its fifth title. The novel’s survival and triumph is like a flash of light in dystopian darkness.


Lō‘ihi Press, 2017, 444 pages.


2. Rise of the Rainbow Warriors: Ten Unforgettable Years of University of Hawai‘i Football

by Dick Tomey with Lance Tominaga

Rainbow warriors

The perfect gift for anyone sporting green in your living room, Rise of the Rainbow Warriors recaps the Dick Tomey years as coach of the UH football team. Tomey wasn’t the first to post winning seasons, but something special happened from 1977 to 1987. Hawai‘i football found a style, adopted a nickname and theme song (Hawai‘i Five-0, of course) and was embraced by the state, often filling Aloha Stadium. Tomey’s humanity and generosity of character explains a lot about those years; he drew special coaches and players, many of whom went on to great success—and whose quotes and memories fill this book. One line that sums up Tomey concerns recruiting, often the bane of coaches whose jobs are tied to the wishes of easily swayed high-school kids. “Even if a player I was recruiting decided to sign with another school,” Tomey writes, “on many occasions I was able to make a friend for life.” In Hawai‘i, Tomey made most of the state his friend.


Watermark Publishing, 2017, 158 pages.


3. A Perfect Day for an Albatross

by Caren Loebel-Fried


After spending five weeks on Midway Atoll counting Laysan albatrosses, Volcano author and artist Caren Loebel-Fried collaborated with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to create the ideal holiday book for children and nature lovers of all ages. Both gorgeous and scientifically sound, as well as gracefully told, the compelling story follows Maile, a young albatross, as she returns from four years at sea to start a family. But first she must learn to dance. It takes a few years, but when she does she attracts a young male, Kumukahi. Even if much of their time is spent apart, they mate for life, reuniting at the same appointed hours over the years. In a piece of advice for all of us, they never forget to greet each other with their original courtship dance. The book’s educational value is multiplied by numerous links and the Cornell Bird App.


Cornell Lab Publishing Group, 2017, unpaginated.


4. Mālama Honua: Hōkūle‘a—a Voyage of Hope

by Jennifer Allen, photos by John Bilderback


Even for us in Hawai‘i, it can feel nearly impossible to grasp the scope of the global voyage of the Hōkūle‘a—to know its story from the perspective of its dreamers, builders, sailors, navigators, support teams and all the people affected, including Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and those visited at all the stops along the way.


But now, with the drama still fresh in our minds, we can experience it through this large, authoritative, gorgeously photographed and written book. Working with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, writer Jennifer Allen and photographer John Bilderback embedded themselves in the project early on. Although they did not sail on the voyage, they interview those who did, and were there at the landfalls to chronicle the joyful celebrations as well as the cultural and environmental interchanges central to the Mālama Honua mission. 


North Shore resident Bilderback’s photographs are intimate and stunning. Allen’s achievement is considerable. Egoless but omnipresent, writing in precise yet warm language, she paints a you-are-there picture of each arrival in a new port. A West Coast author and journalist with a lifetime Hawai‘i connection, she punctuates voyaging chapters with the crew’s own words, followed by viewpoints (and solutions) from  local environmentalists at each landfall in the Pacific Islands, Australia, Africa, Brazil, North America and the Galapagos.


Patagonia is the publisher and has lavished the same kind of graphic and artistic care on Mālama Honua as it did on Dale Hope’s The Aloha Shirt. Maps, voyaging canoe schematics, star charts and hard-won environmental strategies from around the world make this a must-have resource and inspiration.


Patagonia, 2017, 352 pages.


5. Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir

by Amy Tan


This new memoir by Amy Tan, her second, is one of her best books, period. Where the Past Begins is for those who want the real lowdown about Tan’s tragic and tangled family, stripped of the disguises she’s used in novels such as The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Valley of Amazement, The Bonesetter’s Daughter and so on. As a bonus, Tan periodically pauses her story to duck-dive into the workings of her imagination, so it’s a useful—and revealing—text for creatives, who should enjoy joining her as she looks into how memory and experience are transmuted into art.


Tan’s family was shattered from the start by the conflict between traditional arranged (and polygamous) marriage and romantic love. Her mother’s mother had been married off as the fourth wife to “the richest man on an island outside of Shanghai.” When Tan’s grandmother gave her husband a son, he reneged on a promise to let her live apart; she committed suicide. Tan’s mother then grew up in the rich man’s house and was married off at 18 to a playboy, who soon was bringing women home to share their bed.


Tan’s father was a brilliant young engineer with a chance to study at MIT when he and Tan’s mother met and fell in love. Although they fled to Oakland, California, to escape Chinese society’s judgment, the shame was too much for them. Her father, a devout Christian, would never go to MIT, instead becoming a penurious Baptist minister tormented by his illicit marriage. Tan’s mother was tortured by her abandonment of her three daughters by the playboy husband. As partially chronicled in The Joy Luck Club, the sudden collapse of China and subsequent takeover by the Communist regime in 1949 would separate daughters and mother for 30 years. The agony slowly drove Tan’s mother mad, as this book reveals in elliptical chapters filled with profound musings about character, parental influence, family secrets, growing up Asian in America and the unbearable patriarchy of prerevolutionary China. How it all played out in Tan’s mind and life fuels her artistic impulse to make sense—and art—of it all.


One additional bonus for local readers is to hear how Tan gradually teased out her family’s most painful stories, particularly those that were in danger of being lost forever. If you have kūpuna whose tales remain untold, this book may get them talking.


Ecco (HarperCollins), 2017, 406 pages.


6. Kaua‘i Stories I & II

by Pamela Varma Brown


They just love to talk story in Kaua‘i, so much that The Garden Isle could rebrand itself as The Story Isle. Editor/writer Pamela Varma Brown, who collected and curated the oral histories in these two volumes, creates the mood of a campfire tale-telling session. Folksy, friendly, populated by a wide range of residents, the stories have a distinctly Kaua‘i vibe and read like letters from paradise to dog-tired Oahuans whose lives are increasingly urban.


bathrobepress.com, both 2015, 293 pages and 302 pages.  


7. Anyjar

by Jaimie Gusman


AnyjarThere are those who come to Hawai‘i from other places and spend years figuring out where they should fit in. Then there are those like poet Jaimie Gusman, who, arriving in Honolulu for her doctoral program at UH Mānoa, threw herself into creating a space where artists and writers of all kinds could gather, rub up against each other and sometimes show off their work. That was the genesis of Mixed Innovative Arts, which launched in 2009 and operated out of Mercury Bar before finding a home in the original Fresh Café. On the basis of gentrification alone, MIA, now on hiatus, should get a royalty from Howard Hughes and Kamehameha Schools for creating the buzz around an overlooked and industrial neighborhood that would become known, commodified and sold as Kaka‘ako.


Gusman seems like one of those poets who follow the maxim, “Live calmly, write violently.” A new mother with a paying writing gig in the legal sector, she took the genesis of her first book from a made-up word that was assigned as a writing prompt. “Anyjar” makes an appearance in the second poem, recurs in various guises and becomes a mysteriously effective organizing principle: part Maltese Falcon, MacGuffin and Amazon Echo. (“ … I explain—Anyjar is serious / yarn, also an amusing, cambering jug /… Anyjar explains—I am amusing / a design that builds as it breaks.”) The poems make few concessions to the reader, but they do skip, trip, rock and roll along like a three-dimensional game of hopscotch. See if you can keep up—it’s a dare worth taking.


Black Radish Press, 2017, 91 pages.


8. The Poke Cookbook: The Freshest Way to Eat Fish

by Martha Cheng

Poke Cookbook

A perfect publishing storm was already brewing over Hawai‘i’s favorite pūpū when a New York editor spotted an article about poke by the author, a former line chef and HONOLULU’s former food and dining editor. Cheng has risen admirably to the challenge of explaining poke to the Mainland, a place where newbies are substituting quinoa for rice and lima beans for … edamame? She walks us through kitchen prep, seafood selection and classic recipes, then dives into “modern poke”—among them Samoan, Peruvian, Moroccan and Chinese variations. The book’s biggest secret is that we all can learn from it.


Clarkson Potter, 2017, 95 pages.


SEE ALSO: Can the Mainland Do Poke Right? Do We Want Them To?


9. What We Must Remember: Linked Poems

by Ann Inoshita, Juliet S. Kono, Christy Passion and Jean Yamasaki Toyama.

What we must remember

The O.J. trial of its day, the Massie Case was a national scandal based on a rape accusation that led to an innocent Native Hawaiian being murdered at the instigation of the mother of the “victim,” Navy wife Thalia Massie. Four local poets, Ann Inoshita, Juliet S. Kono, Christy Passion and Jean Yamasaki Toyama, retell the story in a series of linked poems, renshi, in What We Must Remember. Taking on the personas of different characters, the poets advance the story by psychological as well as chronological stages.  We hear from the mother of the victim, sorrowing; we go inside the minds of the perpetrators; we join the struggle in the jury room. It may seem counterintuitive to claim that a poem is the best way to tell a complicated true-crime story, but this stunning communal project makes the case.


Bamboo Ridge Press, 2017, 182 pages.


10. Still Out of Place

Still out of place

by Christy Passion


Winner of the 2017 Cades Award for an emerging writer, Christy Passion has set literary Hawai‘i on its ear with these plain-spoken, understated poems of contemporary hard-luck Island lives. She can bewitch a lurid scene into beauty: “Fish heads, heads as big as mine, / with their purple lungs trailing / like party streamers / are held up for approval.” A critical care nurse at The Queen’s Medical Center, part Native Hawaiian, Passion comes at us with quiet, incisive authority—but produces a kind of emotional whiplash in almost every poem.


Bamboo Ridge, 2016, 77 pages.


SEE ALSO: Local Writers Win Prestigious Elliot Cades and Loretta Petrie Awards for Literature


11. Hawai‘i’s Kōlea

Hawaii's koleaby Oscar Johnson and Susan Scott


Who doesn’t love the kōlea? Who wouldn’t want to know more about our long-journeying winged visitors, who return to the same plots of land every year after their 3,000-mile migrations from Alaska? This pretty, informative book, by the world’s acknowledged expert on Pacific Golden Plovers, Johnson, and Honolulu Star-Advertiser “Ocean Watch” columnist Scott, is just the gift for the plover lover on your list.


University of Hawai‘I Press, 2016, 59 pages.     


12. Food to Write Home About: Hawai‘i

Food to write home about

by Bill Tobin and Brian Berusch


Classic recipes from 21 top Island chefs, from Alan Wong to Chris Kajioka, Chef George Mavrothalassitis to Mark Noguchi, turn this gorgeously photographed and produced coffee-table cookbook—by Tiki’s Bar and Grill owner Bill Tobin—into a home cook’s essential.


Cameron Publishing, 2016, 176 pages.  


13. Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ‘Ī‘ī

by Marie Alohalani Brown

Spears of change

John Papa ‘Ī‘ī  was a child when, after an epidemic thinned the ranks of eligible court retainers, his older brother, Maoloha, also very young, was introduced into royal service. Placed in charge of Kamehameha I’s household possessions, Maoloha traded a lei for food, was caught and strangled—by his own uncle—at Kamehameha’s command. His replacement? His little brother. Thus began the fabled and fraught court career of ‘Ī‘ī, who would go to serve five mo‘i and write Fragments of Hawaiian History, the canonical book about the royal and monarchical ruling class.


In this landmark biography, Marie Alohalani Brown, assistant professor of religion at UH Mānoa, analyzes a large trove of previously unattributed writings by ‘Ī‘ī and weaves a rich and informative story, full of new strands, scrupulously placed in its academic and cultural contexts.


University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016, 227 pages.


14. Swimming in Hong Kong

by Stephanie Han

Swimming in Hong Kong

Migrants, ex-pats, visa workers, Honolulu writer Stephanie Han’s characters are often strangers in a strange land who can only find agency through their thoughts. “Botox is very strong,” thinks one, of her mirthless, expressionless boss. In another story, a Korean immigrant works in a Mainland salon, “plucking pubic hair for a living.” It’s the American Dream, right? But she knows the devout Christian courting her with God’s grace will reject her once he learns of her past.


What makes Han’s award-winning story collection so vivid, unsettling and masterful is that no beliefs are off limits, no behavior simply labeled “unspeakable,” nobody and no group gets a free pass. Even the sex, while plentiful, is often bad, which is to say fictionally good—revealing of character and conflict.


Deadly, precise, mature fiction like Han’s is a rarity. Swimming in Hong Kong cuts close to our Island bones, daring us to see more than one side, one viewpoint, to the ethnic diaspora of which we are all a part.


Willow Springs Books, 2016, 139 pages.


15. Curve of the Hook: Yosihiko Sinoto: An Archaeologist in Polynesia

by Yoshiko Sinoto with Hiroshi Aramata (ed. Frank Stewart)

  Curve of the Hook


As beautiful to hold and as it is to ponder, this Barbara Pope-designed book is the first-ever English publication of interviews with one of Hawai‘i and Polynesia’s great archaeologists. The story of Sinoto’s chance arrival and immediate impact on the theory of Polynesian migration in the early 1950s still raises chicken skin. Sinoto would become the Indiana Jones of the Pacific, who found a way to backdate the historical record by tracking the evolution of fishhooks, leading to new theories of and increased attention. The conversations and the haunting period photographs of the people, digs and landscapes of Oceania are imbued with mutual respect and joy. A great gift for anyone who loves Pacific history.


University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016, 206 pages.


16. The Lives of Hawai‘i’s Dolphins and Whales: Natural History and Conservation

by Robin W. Baird

  Dolphin and Whales


This gorgeous photographic and scientific celebration of our local cetaceans is filled the stories of individual animals tagged and followed for decades. By combining a species study with the actual biographies of these charismatic creatures, the author, a research biologist who has logged 17 years working with Hawai‘i’s whales and dolphins, creates a compelling and informed plea for their conservation. It’s on us, he says, to make changes in our environmental habits (including longline fishing) and to stand up against destructive practices (he points to U.S. Navy exercises using super-powered sonar).


University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016, 342 pages.


17. Under the Volcano: The People of Kalapana, 1823–2010

by Charles Langlas and Kūpuna

Under the Volcano

By incredible good fortune, in 1986, a UH Hilo instructor of ethnographic studies, Charles Langlas, was inspired to begin an oral history project in Kalapana when he overheard two residents conversing in Hawaiian. From 1987 to 1990, Langlas and his students fanned out through the area and talked story, recording the conversations for a report. In 1990, the Kīlauea lava flow shifted and erased the township. “Those who grew up in Kalapana lost more than their houses and land,” Langlas writes, “they lost the landmarks which represented their remembered past as a community.” This book reconstitutes that past, and community, with personal stories, maps, photos, a historic overview, sections on subsistence, culture, family relations, folkways and, inevitably, change. An important resource, it’s also wonderful reading.


Pili Press, 2016, 242 pages.


18. The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present

by John Pomfret


A veteran foreign correspondent and China expert, Pomfret defuses our current anxieties about China by showing how our relationship has always run hot-and-cold. Even before the American Revolution Yankees found China irresistible, not just as a trading partner, but as fertile ground for Christian conversion. Similarly, China embraced the idea of America as an equal who would lead them into the modern age while playing fair, unlike the predatory European powers. The author’s colorful, crisp chapters build to several frustrating peaks, when a true partnership between the nations was at hand, particularly after the rise of Hawai‘i-educated Sun Yat Sen. To see these opportunities dashed—the Boxer Revolt breaking out, the U.S. passing exclusionary laws against the Chinese who’d built the railroads and levees, and more—is to rue our current military tension as a tragic waste.


Henry Holt, 2015, 694 pages.

  Wangs vs. World, Charm Buyers


19. The Wangs vs. the World

by Jade Chang


Books about rich Chinese been a thing since Crazy Rich Asians—a surprise bestseller in 2013, soon to be a movie—repurposed the venerable shopping-and-cuddling genre. Although a spawn of the genre, Jade Chang’s The Wangs vs. the World, escapes clichés by having Charles Wang lose everything in the 2008 crash. The story follows the shock wave as it hits his dependents—American-born and raised children, Chinese-born second wife, family’s amah (wet nurse and retainer, and a link to the old country)—during a road trip that touches Austin, New Orleans and so on. The Wangs have TV-ready, American-style issues, but Chang, an arts journalist from Los Angeles, doles out a few dirty secrets some Chinese families would prefer to keep quiet. Your book club will love it.


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 355 pages.


20. The Charm Buyers

by Lillian Howan


Being Chinese, rich and gorgeous in the atolls at the tail end of France’s nuclear bomb-test era is a Faulknerian predicament. But teenager Marc Chen makes impressive efforts to escape his suave, controlling, womanizing father, falling in with a cougar of a Marquise, trying large-scale pakalolo-growing, even hatching a python-smuggling scheme. The air is thick with sexual knowledge, Chen is young and pretty and his true love is cousin Marie-Laure, who is plain but brilliant. It all feels tres tres incestuous; it reads like Joan Didion on opium. And it’s fun.


University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017, 309 pages. 


21. The Natives Are Restless: A San Francisco Dance Master Takes Hula into the 20th Century: Kumu Hula Patrick Makuakāne and Nā Lei Hula I ka Wēkiu

by Constance Hale

  Natives are restless

“I am not the kind of person who talks to dead people,” begins Constance Hale in this lavishly photographed book about (and collaboration with) hula’s most avant-garde and provocative kumu hula, Patrick Makuakāne. “Yet every Wednesday evening, I throw on a T-shirt and a gathered cotton skirt, rush to an elementary school cafeteria in San Francisco, and proceed to whirl my arms, stamp my feet, and call out to figures like Pele … ” 


Hale, a Hawai‘i-born New York Times best-selling author and journalist, clearly has the chops to convey hula. Her lifelong devotion to the form, and Hawaiian culture (her Berkeley master’s thesis was on slack-key guitar), give her the insight and authority to describe traditional practices. After 20 years as a student of Makuakāne, whose first kumu was John Keolamaka Lake, she also can frame and explain her kumu hula’s sometimes-radical choices. House music? Annie Lennox? Broadway-style lighting and plot beats? Nā Lei Hula I ka Wēkiu delivers the goods, to judge from these pages and photos. And its popularity and growth into a legendary Bay Area arts organization give it respectability and clout.


But credit Hale for airing the objections that are growing, too, as hula goes global—there are more than 500 schools in the world. As critic Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman says, it risks capitalizing “on universalist notions of spirituality wrapped in mysticism.” One look at Makuakāne’s dance of Hawaii’s deep-sea origins in a volcanic vent, which opens “The Kumulipo,” should dispel that notion—and make believers out of us all. Even Hiram Bingham.


SparkPress with Nā Lei Hula I ka Wēkiu, 2016, 255 pages.


SEE ALSO: This Maverick Choreographer is Taking Hula into the 21st Century


22. The Hawaiian Horse

by Dr. Billy Bergin and Dr. Brady Bergin

Hawaiian horse

For the paniolo, polo player, equestrian and horse lover, this hefty book is a must-have: a beautifully done, comprehensive treatment of the history, breeding, health and future of the horse in Hawai‘i. For the rest of us, it’s still fascinating reading and photography, including can’t-miss chapters on pā‘ū riders, the horse in Hawaiian society and “The Historic Role of Hawai‘i’s Valleys.”


University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017, 365 pages.


23. Growing Hawai‘i’s Native Plants: A Simple Step-by-Step Approach for Every Species

by Kerin Lilleeng-Rosenberger


Native plantsWhen the author arrived in Hawai‘i from Detroit in 1968, plant life here changed her life. Beginning as a volunteer at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kaua‘i, she quickly took charge of the plant propagation program. On the side, she grew native Hawaiian plants to foster their reintroduction. From there, her recognized expertise in cultivating plants that had only grown in the wild led to her running a new nursery at the Hawai‘i Plant Conservation Center in Kaua‘i’s Lāwa‘i Valley, underwritten by the MacArthur Foundation.


This meticulous guide to 1,386 indigenous species is the key to a community effort to restore Hawai‘i’s green life. Updated from its 2005 edition, the ring-binder format with water-resistant pages is ideal for the hands-on gardener or cultural practitioner. It’s also comprehensively illustrated. Ho‘omau!


Mutual Publishing, 2016, 440 pages.


24. For a Song

by Rodney Morales

For a song

The phrase “for a song” implies something valuable sold for a fraction of its worth.  Rodney Morales’ novel implies that includes the people and culture of Hawai‘i. At first the story plays cute: The main detective character is named Kawika Apana, echoing the real-life Chang Apana, who inspired the Charlie Chan books, and he lives on a boat, a nod to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee (and perhaps to Charley Memminger’s Aloha, Lady Blue.) Morales layers his lines with arch references to seminal works of detection and includes metafictional dialogue with peek-a-boo characters. Fortunately, some of them resemble certain senators, underworld fixers, developers and artsy types from our Island scene. Trim away the distractions and you’ll spy the seamy side: Hawai‘i nasty underbelly served with loving observations of people who are being squeezed hard by economics and tourism.


University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016, 499 pages.


25. Hard to Grip: A Memoir of Youth, Baseball and Chronic Illness

by Emil DeAndreis

Hard to Grip

This wonderfully candid and often hilarious memoir is about a UH Hilo baseball pitcher whose meager talent is offset by a prodigious appetite for carousing. Well before DeAndreis develops symptoms of chronic illness, his greatest challenge is growing up, as he frankly details tearing up Hilo town in epic binges followed by blackouts and, often, black eyes and concussions. Love is what saves him and love is the surprise mainspring of his writing, as DeAndreis shows a major league gift for portraits that light up the heart: his blue-collar parents, his girlfriend (now wife) from the Deep South and “Dr. P,” his college writing teacher and adviser, who doesn’t let his talented student off the hook for bad decisions. When rheumatoid arthritis arrives, DeAndreis struggles to bear the burden. Family and friends again help him evolve into a caring coach, teacher and husband—while leaving his gift for comedy intact. If you have kids or grandkids, a great book to leave lying around the house this summer.


Schaffner Press, 2017, 303 pages.


26. Freelove

Freeloveby Sia Figiel


The first Pacific Islander to win a Commonwealth Prize for a debut book in 1997, Samoa’s outspoken Sia Figiel now uncorks a bottled-up but brilliant high school girl’s sexual awakening. Figiel sets her drama in a sleepy backwater village when Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” was No. 1 on the radio, but a girl like Inosia may’ve never dared look at her naked body in a mirror. Then she defies taboos by choosing to accept her favorite teacher’s attentions. The story scans as a tropical version of the medieval tryst of Heloise and Abelard, but Inosia’s desire to reach intellectual as well as erotic heights sends her to academic success instead of perdition.


Lō‘ihi Press, 2016, 240 pages.


27. An Internment Odyssey: Haisho Tenten

by Suikei Furuya

Internment odyssey

Each generation, sadly, finds a fresh reason to be reminded about the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans. When Sukei Furuya was swept up on Dec. 7, 1941, he joined a group of Oahuans in a world of endless waiting, confined without news of family or the world, presumed guilty for his ancestry. His six-camp, four-year confinement took him from Sand Island to California’s Angel Island to Alabama to Montana and more; 15 years later, he began publishing serial chapters of his story in a Japanese-language newspaper, The Hawai‘i Times. Although a businessman, Furuya (a pen name) was at heart a poet. Writing haiku offered a kind of freedom and also served to bookmark emotions and scenery for the prose to come. Thinking like a sociologist, Furuya captures how the internees found ways to cope and even to enjoy life behind the wire, playing hanafuda, golf, and baseball and even fishing. But they struggle with depression, generational cliqueishness and delusions of a sweeping Japanese victory. Most wrenchingly, the latter breaks out in the last weeks of the war and causes scores to choose repatriation over return to Hawai‘i. Published here in its first English translation, an excellent one by Tatsumi Hayashi, this book is as swift as a novel and as deep emotionally.


Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i (available at gift shop), 2016, 369 pages.  


28. Campaign Hawai‘i: An Inside Look at Politics in Paradise

Campaign Hawaiiby Rick Tsujimura


Longtime local Democratic Party insider Rick Tsujimura penned Campaign Hawai‘i. It’s the view from a “sparrow,” a term describing supporters of the late Gov. John Burns, the unsung volunteers who fueled his machine. Tsujimura delves into ethnic voting, backroom game plans, mudslinging. Yet the author still believes that politics should be an honorable profession.


Watermark Publishing, 2016, 212 pages.Robbie Dingeman


29. The Jersey Brothers

by Sally Mott Freeman

Jersey Brothers

Many of the books timed to Pearl Harbor’s 75th anniversary were duds—uninformed, rushed and riddled with errors. Sally Mott Freeman, on the other hand, has created an intricate and affecting true story about three siblings whose fates enmeshed them in the Pacific war. At its center, unusually for a World War II book, is their mother, an intelligent, anxious and indefatigable letter-writer, who, when the youngest becomes a POW in the Philippines, swings into action. Writing and reaching officers, admirals, the Red Cross and even the President, Helen provides a Greek Chorus of the highs and lows that millions felt all over the world. As for the brothers, each of their stories is a fascinating, heartbreaking and little-seen immersion into the machinery of war, which Freeman describes with impressive grasp of detail. Book groups take note.


Simon & Schuster, 2017, 576 pages.