It’s late 1935 and Mauna Loa is erupting. Residents of Hilo worry that Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, is angry. Gail Tsukiyama sets her new novel, The Color of Air, in this still small city populated mainly by sugarcane workers and fishermen during an eruption that actually took place in the 1930s. The novel, meanwhile, is populated mainly with the children and grandchildren of Japanese immigrants that arrived in Hawai’i in the late 1800s.
Hawai’i is the one part of the USA proper that is unambiguously Asian, both in its origins as well as in its current demographics and orientation. Its idyllic image, writes Sharon Chang in her new book, Hapa Tales and Other Lies, is fraught with problems, namely that the Native Polynesian culture has been exploited over many years and in many ways. Right away, readers know they are in for a different interpretation of this vacation paradise.