Monday, September 26, 2011
Behold the Many: A Novel
Taking up her familiar themes—family, guilt, abandonment and the curses invoked by the dead on the living—Yamanaka's latest novel builds nicely on her previous, Father of the Four Passages. In 1913, sisters Anah, Aki and Leah are sent to an orphanage on the Hawaiian island of Oahu when they fall ill with tuberculosis. Their family, headed by their hard-drinking Portuguese father who abuses their Japanese mother, is already strained before their departure. Anah promises her sisters that their mother and brother, Charles, will rescue them from the orphanage, but she is wrong: Leah and Aki die. As vengeful ghosts, Anah's sisters taunt and torture her for surviving and for what Aki terms her "lie" to them. With their parents' deaths and the disappearance of Charles, Anah remains cursed even as she attempts to go on. When Anah eventually finds happiness and marries, the chorus of voices from the dead extends the curse to her children. Only many years later—following much suffering and one horrifying event—does Anah find a way to appease the ghosts and to forgive herself. A cacophony of voices both living and dead who speak a variety of Hawaiian dialects spikes the narrative, but Yamanaka's beautiful, harsh prose and thematic vision unify this intense novel. (Feb.)
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