Monday, December 26, 2011


Christmas Eve, I received a book entitled Princess Ruth: Love and Tragedy in Hawaii by Jo Ann Lordahl. Jo Ann, an author friend of 34 years, now lives on Kaua'i Island in Hawaii and has been resident there for ten years. Years ago, she spent several months in New Iberia, Louisiana working on one of her novels, and I wrote a feature story about her for The Daily Iberian. She has visited here many times since she began her career as a writer, sometimes spending months in isolation, doing extensive researching and writing. In fact, she's one of the hardest working writers I know – she once lived two months in the apartment attached to my home, and our visits were short and infrequent because she worked day and night.

Jo Ann writes in many genres and has published over twenty books, but this last novel is her piece de resistance. It’s a saga about a protagonist named Samantha whose husband Thomas dies in a tragic accident, and she moves from southern California to Keaha, Kaua'i, the oldest in the Hawaiian chain of islands, where she begins working on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

In Hawaii, Samantha discovers that islands resemble her native Alabama – “the red dirt of Kauai is exactly like my old red hills of Alabama…magical, the sparkle and mystery of childhood come home again…its tranquil touch reaches out like clouds over Kahili Mountain luring me to accept its generosity…” After checking out a book in the Hanapepe library about Princess Ruth, a woman “ugly as sin on the cover of the High Chiefess: Ruth Keelikolani,” Samantha dreams about the Princess speaking to her, asking her to tell the story of her reign as a royal Hawaiian figure and to relate those tales about others of old Hawaii that were formerly only told in spoken genealogy.

Meanwhile, Samantha’s work involves making comparative analyses of the gene expression between normal and tumor tissues. But in her spare time, she studies the history of Hawaii and researches the story of Princess Ruth. Her studies reveal how colonialism involved the seizure of lands and governments and how giant corporations began to control all the resources of Hawaii. She also discovers that until very recently natives were only educated to be servants and plantation workers, and that missionaries, instead of seeking to understand the Hawaiians culture which produced the natives’ power, tried to destroy the rich culture.

Jo Ann arrived on the island as a “haole” (a Hawaiian word which formerly meant foreigners; today it means any white person. The word accurately translated means “no breath.” At one time, Hawaiians could not believe how shallowly the missionaries breathed, and so they called them” no-breathers”). An example of an arresting passage in which Samantha hears Princess Ruth’s voice whispering to her incited me to read further: “I felt you looking at my picture on the cover of that book… felt your compassion and understanding. You searched for me, young and beautiful, and found that later picture at my second marriage to Isaac Davis. Evil, ignorant, easily led. There’s a story I will tell you later…way beyond anything you’ll find elsewhere. Ignorant haoles. Perfect name for them. No breathers. No breath. No understanding. Ha, breath, is how you grow and collect mana. How you connect with the land, aina, with spirit, soul, with your ancestral beginnings. Your aumakua…”

Jo Ann writes that at first her interest in Hawaii was personal and pragmatic, while she attempted to get along in a new place. But slowly, as a writer who became more engrossed, a sense of justice stirred within her and she developed the desire to tell the authentic story of Hawaii. “The Hawaiian people are so battered and unfairly treated. It’s all there in the right books, easy to read. Fascinated and protected by history’s distance, I want to cry—how could they? How could these newcomers to the Islands just come in and take over? How could they treat the indigenous Hawaiian people so badly?”…And therein lies the tale.

Princess Ruth is a unique example of non-fiction/fiction that reflects Jo Ann’s appreciation for ancient Hawaiian customs, native foods, the beauty and grace of older Hawaiian women, and the exotic terrain of the Islands. It rivals James Michener’s Hawaii and brings readers up to date on the takeover of the “Big Five” companies that were called the Invisible Government behind the scenes of the Republican Party which dominated Hawaiian government and politics. It also focuses the spotlight on GMO foods and adverse health effects.

Two hundred and seventy-two end notes, an extensive book list, and a chronology of Hawaiian rulers, including Princess Ruth, complete this volume and enkindle further reading about the historic figure of Princess Ruth and the invasion of a Paradise that Jo Ann chose as her dream home. This is a BIG read!

1 comment:

Jo Ann Lordahl said...

Thank You for this wonderful and complete review! And how typical of you to understand and express deeper meanings of Hawaii and Princess Ruth.
What a good job you do - and so quickly. How you find/make/scrounge time to do all you do is amazing.
So often I remember so fondly living in New Iberia. Remember the Romance I wrote there - Shadows on the Teche? It's now available on my web site www.joannlordahl and on Kindle (a little promotion here!)
Good luck with all your endeavors. Thank you for being my friend. Aloha, Jo Ann