Monday, August 17, 2015

#Review: Kolea by Russell Cahill

The illegitimate child of Maui’s King is spirited away and raised in seclusion by a mysterious Hula Dancer and a blind warrior. Follow the child, Kolea, to Molokai where he is trained by the warrior and pursued by an evil half-brother. A daring escape in a voyaging canoe leads north and the adventure continues as the Hawai’ian men and women warriors meet natives of the North American Coast. The voyagers join a community of Tlingit Indians and Kolea grows in wisdom and courage. Thoughts and yearning draw the voyagers south and point their hearts and the bows of their canoe toward home.



The first chapters of Kolea involved a lot of exposition.  On the one hand, given that the Hawaiian culture evidenced in Kolea is foreign to most readers (before actually visiting Hawaii, my entire knowledge of the state came from the old television show "Hawaii 50"), this exposition was necessary.  And, since Kolea was still a baby, it couldn't really be from his point of view.

Enter Pueo, a hula dancer.  I really liked that hula dancers had almost the status of priestesses, they were more than entertainers for tourists visiting the islands.  People respected (some feared) Puea.  She had a vision that Kolea would be harmed and needed to be taken out of the area in order to survive, as his half-brother was seeking Kolea's life to eliminate competition for the throne of Maui.

While I could see that the beginning had to be written the way it was, it made it hard to follow until Kolea grew up enough to actually be a part of moving the action forward in his own story.

Once he did grow up, the story was utterly amazing.  I doubt Kolea could have been raised better had he had all the advantages of being the son of a king, than he was by Pueo and Ka'i, a blind warrior.  As Kolea grew, his half-brother Mahi continued to search for him, in order to commit fratricide.  Moving from one island to another to avoid Mahi, Kolea had a chance to learn from the different groups of Hawaiians (it seems each island was had its own chief or king), and developed personal and professional alliances that would last throughout his life.

When Mahi kills his (and Kolea's) father, Nanoa, and blames it on Kolea, a journey of some distance becomes necessary.  A group of people agree to go with Kolea and they voyage far to the north, ending up eventually where I believe to be the Aleutian islands or Alaska area.  There are glaciers, different animals and peoples.  And again, a native respect for life (even if the culture is not their own) enables Kolea's group to find allies.

After eight years, enough is enough, and they decide to voyage back to their homeland of Hawaii ... but not before even more adventures and dangers.

The scope of Cahill's novel reminds me of the work of James Michener (think "Hawaii" without the white people and missionaries).  Kolea is grand aventure; Kolea is epic saga.  Kolea will make you grateful for authors like Cahill, who, through research and imagination, have preserved a sense of 'old Hawaii' for us, of the culture before the encroachment of Western civilization.

I became wistful at the end of reading Kolea, much as I had at the end of my week-long visit to Oahu.  I did not want the story (or the visit) to end.



Russell Cahill, a retired park ranger, lives in a forest adjacent to a salmon stream near Olympia Washington. He is of Native Hawaiian ancestry and writes about the people of Hawaii and Western North America. Russell was born in San Francisco prior to World War Two and says he is old enough to have played American Football while wearing a leather helmet. He is married to Narda Pierce and is the father of three children, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Mr. Cahill is a graduate of San Jose State College, (now University) with a degree in Biology. He has served in Yosemite, Glacier Bay, Katmai and Haleakala National Parks and has been the Director of the Alaska and California State Park Systems and the Deputy Director of Washington’s State Parks.

During the 1970s Russell with his late wife Susie took their children to a remote place in Alaska and built a cabin using only hand tools. He spends part of each summer at the cabin in Gustavus, Alaska. He and his wife Narda have kayaked in Alaska, Mainland United States and Western Australia. Since his retirement he has served as a member of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, State Parks Commission, and as a Community Services volunteer. Russell and his wife have traveled extensively based on the theory, “retire early and often.” The two of them once walked from Idaho to Seattle just for the heck of it. He claims his most interesting job was as a bouncer at a go-go club during college years.

Click the button just above to go to the schedule page on the tour site, to see more reviews, etc.  You can even apply to become a reviewer yourself!

(Disclosure:  I received an ecopy of this book from the author and publisher via Sage's Blog Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

edited to add:

Stop back on Wednesday, August 26th, to read my interview with the author!

1 comment:

  1. I always like it when setting is a big part of the novel, and it seems like this one does start out with quite a lot of it. It's a shame that it is so hard to follow as Kolea grows up though. I understand the why, but the beginning needs to be gripping for me.