Well, my worst fears were unfounded. This was a charming read and not the over-the-top cliche-laden touristy book I was dreading. It also seemed like it did justice to a certain segment of life in the Hawaiian islands. It certainly had more in-depth descriptions of surfing than in any of the other books I read. However, if you’re looking for a deeper look at Hawaii and her people–all of her people–this is not the book you’re looking for. If you are looking for a fun, easy-going romp with a bit of mysticism and surfing, then this might be it.
I am reading my way across the USA–5 or so books set in each state, with a focus on books where the setting becomes another character, or where we learn something about the history, geography, and/or people of that state. We are currently reading Hawaii.
The Tiki mystique has had a good run in American culture, and beyond, despite flagrant misrepresentations of actual Polynesian culture and life. Of course, in my humble opinion, Tiki culture, especially Tiki bars have long held a specifically non-cultural escapism that represents an inherent love for the warmth and beauty of the tropics. I never met anyone that really believed such a place actually existed however much they might dream of the fantasies easily allowed in such a world.
This quote has a lot to do with what I was afraid this book might be, and everything to do with the fact that it wasn’t. Peacock consistently shows that “inherent love for the warmth and beauty of the tropics,” and only rarely shows any “misrepresentations of actual Polynesian culture and life,” and while they are possibly “flagrant,” Peacock seems to truly respect the Hawaiian culture. His haole tiki bar owner doesn’t appropriate Hawaiian culture, and Peacock shows an interesting cross-section of lifestyles without the novel relying on sensationalism or passing judgement.
Of course, the argument can be made that the Tiki movement itself is cultural appropriation, distracting from the colonial depredations of the islands and Polynesian culture. But as I said, Peacock seems to be very sensitive to the issue, despite the possible pitfalls.
I really enjoyed the story about the man from T.I.K.I. who comes to evaluate the authenticity of the bar’s Tiki-ness, and, of course, I enjoyed the parrot, Tiwaka and his pronouncements.
As to setting, the best descriptions in the book are probably the surfing scenes, which got somewhat technical and included a Hawaiian green sea turtle. But we also got a little section on the Vog, which I don’t think was included in any of the other books.
[The] approaching front from up Kauai way had stalled there and allowed a southerly flow to develop. Not bad in itself except for one problem. One hundred and thirty miles away the world’s most active volcano was pumping out lava and sulfuric acid fumes like it had something to prove. I guess it actually did. Prove that it could build another 47,000 foot tall mountain. Its previous accomplishment, Mauna Kea, was like a Hawaiian iceberg, most of it was hidden beneath the sea. As some 2000 metric tons of sulfuric acid fumes were being produced daily and mixed with those southerly winds, we soon experienced one of the things Los Angeles got to enjoy regularly, smog. Except we called it Vog, since it came from a Volcano. Many people dreaded it, even tried to get away by flying to Kauai, 200 miles to the north.
In particular, Peacock attests that the Vog causes extreme grumpiness in some locals, and illustrates this through several stories.
He also mentions another landmark–the Hana Highway–which does show up in The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan, which I’ll be reviewing soon.
The road, affectionately called Hana Highway despite being one lane in many places, seemed to be the froth at the top of all the little jungle roads leading to it. From here, you could pretty much tell what was going on in the jungles on either side. One place along the road was a favorite gathering place for the hippies as they hitchhiked into the little windsurfing village for coffee, Internet and little if any soap.
Overall, this was a fun, quick read, and gave us a perspective we hadn’t really seen in any of our other Hawaii books, but if I was recommending one book to read for the state, this wouldn’t be it.
For more information about Don Ho, Kui Lee, and Tiki culture in general, the Wikipedia page has some basics that will help with most of the references in the book.