Song of the Exile

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9780345425393: Song of the Exile

In this epic, original novel in which Hawaii's fierce, sweeping past springs to life, Kiana Davenport, author of the acclaimed Shark Dialogues, draws upon the remarkable stories of her people to create a timeless, passionate tale of love and survival. In spellbinding, sensual prose, Song of the Exile follows the fortunes of the Meahuna family--and the odyssey of one resilient man searching for his soul mate after she is torn from his side by the forces of war.

In the last, innocent days before Pearl Harbor, two people meet in Honolulu almost by chance: Keo, a gifted jazz trumpeter native to the islands, and Sunny, a fiercely independent beauty of Hawaiian and Korean heritage. As their love grows, youth and ambition propel them out into a world that is spiraling into madness.

Keo's music takes him from the back alleys of Honolulu to the hidden jazz clubs of New Orleans--and, ultimately, to the fevered decadence of pre-war Paris, where Sunny joins him, even as the Nazis prepare to march into the doomed city. Caught in the tides of history, the lovers flee separately to the seething chaos of Shanghai, where Sunny searches for the sister she has never known. Captured by the Japanese, Sunny descends into a place of unimagined horror and violation. Keo mounts a desperate campaign to find her--a heroic effort that becomes his destiny.

From the turbulent years of World War II through Hawaii's complex journey to statehood, this extraordinary novel sheds a searing light on the unspoken fate that befell thousands of women during this dark time in history. The result is a bold narrative of unforgettable characters who rise up magnificent and forceful, redeemed by the spiritual power and the awesome beauty of their islands. As haunting as a trumpet's final soaring note, Song of the Exile is a mesmerizing story of music and myth, tragedy and triumph, survival and transcendence.

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About the Author:

Kiana Davenport was born and raised in Kalihi, Hawaii. Author of the critically acclaimed novel Shark Dialogues, she has been a Fiction Fellow at Radcliffe's Bunting Institute and the recipient of a Fiction Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Boston and Hawaii.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

RABAUL

NEW BRITAIN, 1942

"... SOON THE 'IWA BIRD WILL FLY. HUGE MAMMAL WAVES WILL breach and boom. It will be Makahiki time. Autumn in my islands ..."

She sits up quickly in the dark, taking her body by surprise. Her fingers roam her face, a face once nearly flawless. She drags her knuckles down her cheeks.

Outside, electrified barbed wire hums. She feels such wrenching thirst, she sucks sweat coursing down her arm. Then carefully she rises, gliding like algae through humid air. She listens for the sea. For that is what she longs for--waves cataracting, corroding her to crystals. From somewhere, gurgling latrines. Even their sound is comforting.

A kerosene lamp is steered into the dark. Sunny watches as dreamily it floats, comes down. A soldier's hand, the hand of memory, places it on the floor, revealing a yeasty, torn mosquito net. Inside, a young girl on a narrow bed, so still she could be dead.

In watchtowers surrounding the women's compound--twenty Quonset huts, within each, forty women--guards yawn and stroke their rifles. One of them half dozes, dreamily composing an impeccable letter to his family in Osaka. "Mother, we are winning.... The Imperial Japanese Army will prevail!" He is growing thin.

In one hut a young girl, Kim, pulls her net aside. Burning with pain, she crawls into Sunny's narrow bed, into her arms, and sobs.

Sunny calms her, whispering, "Yes, cry a little, it will help you sleep."

"It's hardest when the sky turns light. I think of my family who I will never see again. I want to run outside, throw myself against the fence."

Sunny sighs, breathes in the smell of sewage, failing flesh. "Kim, be strong. Think of music, think of books--normal things we took for granted."

"I don't remember normal things." Kim scratches at her sordid legs, a girl of sixteen. "I don't remember life."

Sunny shakes her gently, feeling mostly bone. "Listen now. When the whistle blows for mustering, we'll stand up straight, eat whatever scraps they throw. No matter how filthy the water, we'll drink. With what is left we'll bathe. We'll do this for our bodies, so our bodies will know we still have hope for a future."

"What future?" Kim whispers. "Two years of this. I only want to die."

"Hush, and listen. Death would be too easy, don't you see?" Sunny sighs, begins to drift. "... In Paris now it would be cool. We would stroll the boulevards." Her voice turns dreamy. "We might even take a cab."

Kim looks up, asking softly, "Will the drivers be rude again?"

"Oh, yes. And my French is so bad. Maybe this night we would go to Chez L'Ami Louis."

"Oh! The food is rich, so excellent." Kim momentarily comes alive, for this is her favorite game. Imagining.

"What wine shall we order? The house Fleurie?"

"And paté. And oysters! Will you dip mine in horseradish, Sunny?"

"Of course. And I will scold you when you pocket the matches, such a tourist thing."

Her voice softens. She thinks of Keo, their time in Paris. Rocking in lush geometries of morning light, nothing between them but heartbeats. Then spinning under marble arches, through terraced parks, young and careless and exiled. Not seeing Paris collapsing around them, not seeing their lives were crumbling.

"How happy we were. Grabbing each moment, so alive."

"I have no such memories," Kim weeps. "I never shall."

"Of course you will! One day this will end. You will heal. Life will help you to forget."

"... Yes. Maybe life is waiting in Paris. Beauty and adventure. And shall we walk this evening down the Champs Elysées? Shop for the softest kid gloves? And cologne? Or maybe take a café and wait for Keo. I'll close my eyes, pretend I'm there, just looking on."

"Shh," Sunny whispers. "Soon it will be daylight. If they find us together, they'll beat us again."

She feels tears come: hunger, torture, incessant pain, the knowledge that she and this girl--all of them--are dying.

"Don't think so much. It will consume you. You will never survive."

"Survive. For what?" Kim's voice grows loud; girls sit up listening behind their nets. "You talk of life. How can we face life after this? How can we face ourselves?"

Sunny's voice turns urgent. "We must live. Or what have we suffered for? Will these years have been for nothing?"

Under her pillow is a makeshift map, drawn so she can remember where they are, where they were shipped to months ago. Here is the town of Rabaul on the island of New Britain, east of Papua New Guinea, just north of Australia. Here is the Pacific Ocean and, far to the northeast, Hawai'i. Honolulu, home. Farther out is the world, the great oceans. Far across the Atlantic, there is Paris. Yesterday. But, always, her mind snaps back to Rabaul.

Exhausted, weak beyond knowing, Kim sinks back on the filthy mattress, stale grains of rice matting her hair. "I want to sleep, I want to dream. Oh, take me back to Paris, shops, cabarets. Tell me again how you and Keo rode in a car with the top down...."

Paris, Sunny thinks. We were so innocent. Not understanding trains were already leaving stations, streets were darkening with blood. She sighs, begins again, dreamily, and as she talks, girls struggle from their beds, move down the aisle, brushing her mosquito net. Some so thin, their movements seem delicate, some so young they are children, ghosts weaving through a scrim. Wanting only to listen and dream, they sit with arms entwined, heads bowed against each other.

"... I remember, French women were so chic, and arrogant, always rushing off to rendezvous. I tried to imitate them, to be caustic and quick. It was not in my nature...."

"And did you paint your nails each day?"

"And did you drink champagne?"

She smiles wearily. "Oh, yes. Sometimes we danced all night. Then stood on little bridges, waiting for the sun."

Kim curls against her, like a child. "Tell us again about your sweetheart. Was he always kind?"

Sunny weeps a little, and they wait.

"He was an island man, very kind. And shy. A musician, have I mentioned? So gifted, he played in famous cities. New Orleans. Paris. He was known."

Girls shudder and sigh, as if her words are talismans, miracles that will transport them, save their lives.

"Keo was not my first, but he was my only. I thought I chose

him, now I see I was the chosen. It's so nice when someone reaches for you. Try to imagine. A young man, not terribly handsome, not very tall. Dark, very dark, and proud. Even at home in Honolulu, he always stood apart...."

KE ALANA

Awakening

HONOLULU, MID-1930S

DAWN COMING PURPLE OVER THE KO'OLAUS, HE STROLLED UP

Kalihi Lane, west of downtown Honolulu. A lane so narrow he could reach out his arms, almost touch bushes on either side. A world remote, unspoken for, so modest there was the temptation to hate it. There was the fear this was all he would know.

Wood-frame bungalows going to termites, their porch steps scalloped by generations. Each separated by wire fences snaked with chenille plants, crown flowers, golden trumpet vines. The heavy scent of ginger, plumeria. Each day he left this lane with the breath of an animal running. And each night he returned.

Some nights he felt the lane reach out to him, beautiful in moonlight. In every yard, chicken coops, orchids rioting in lard cans, blue sobs of jacaranda. And mango trees drooping with lianas, shell ginger hanging like pink jewels. Overhead, scraggly palms stretched back and forth across the lane, forming a feathery vaulted ceiling like a long primeval foyer leading him into a forest of shy and friendly tribes.

Sometimes he stood very still and listened. Mr. Kimuro snoring on his left answered the piping snores of Mr. Silva on the right. Mary Chang's phone rang, and across the lane Dodie Manlapit sat up in bed. He heard the sea, he heard its call. He laid his hand against a tree. I have not lived. At lane's end, he stepped into a tiny yard, a carless garage, climbed the steps of a bungalow, and quietly removed his shoes.

On a stool in the hallway his mother, Leilani, already astride the day. Husky-armed, mocha skin unwrinkled, face flawless as a child's, she sat gabbing on the phone with Aunty Silky, who worked the six-to-six shift at Palama Women's Prison.

"... listen, girlie, was scarlet fever, no cholera, dat took her, so much coming at us in dose days. She nevah sat up. Just blink and die. Dat's when some buggah stole her crystal necklace. And whatchoo t'ink? Last year Milky Carmelita show up fo' Pansy's wedding wearing dem same damn crystals! 'Auw¯e! I near went die. Wait--here come my son, da midnight owl."

He stood in cool drafts, drinking guava from the bottle, then closed the Frigidaire and kissed his mother's head in passing. Sprawled in his tiny room, younger brother Jonah, his walls a grid of baseball mitts and rowing paddles. Malia, his sister, in her room, snoring in a chair, eerie white face mask, head helmeted with pleated metal meant to train her curly hair.

In their shared room, older brother DeSoto, on leave from his ship in the merchant marine. Keo pulled off his waiter's shirt and trousers, hung them carefully, and crawled into the bottom bunk. Listening to the faltering tenor of his brother's snores, he covered his face with a pillow, steeped in the distillate of envy and frustration.

He's crossed the Pacific seven times. Seen Antarctica. Known women in Java. Manila. I've never been off this rock. Just a guy who carries trays...
HE COULD HAVE BEEN BORN BLIND, SIGHT SEEMED SO WASTED on him. As ...

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