Davenport’s latest delves into rougher side of life in paradise

International best-selling author of “Shark Dialogues” and “Songs of Exile” Kiana Davenport wrote about the rougher side of Hawai‘i living in her latest book, “House of Many Gods,” tackling issues such as poverty, racism, and military-arms testing on the islands.

She will be on island for a book-signing tomorrow at Borders Books, Music, Movies & Cafe in Kukui Marketplace in Lihu‘e.

“House of Many Gods” takes place on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, and in Russia, and follows the story of Ana, a mixed-blood, strong-willed girl who was abandoned by her mother at a young age.

She is raised by relatives in a rundown home on the Wai‘anae Coast of O‘ahu, not far from a restricted military lot.

The town is described as a wild place of “youngsters raised on welfare, their lives were circumscribed by landlessness, poor education, drugs,” where the children share beds and their tools are homemade.

Her house is full of “fight-full uncles and great uncles smelling of tobacco and gun bluing.”

Ana decides to break out of the Wai‘anae stereotype and goes to school to become a doctor. She has occasional encounters with her mother, who returns to town to visit.

Ana, however, constantly tries to push her away, out of resentment for being left behind. Unbeknownst to her, it is her mother who pays for schooling and anything else her family might need, through checks she sends to the house.

Ana flies to Kaua‘i as a member of a volunteer rescue team tending to victims of Hurricane ‘Iniki, and meets Russian filmmaker Nikolai, who follows her back to O‘ahu. The two, who come from different parts of the world, find out they have much in common.

Both came from impoverished towns and overcame the odds to become accomplished adults. The two eventually become lovers.

In “House of Many Gods,” Davenport writes about Ana’s struggle to succeed and take pride in her family and hometown, deal with her feelings about Nikolai, and, eventually, battle cancer.

Davenport said she wanted to write about what was true about Hawai‘i, and not a life-in-paradise story.

“(Hawai‘i) is not just about paradise. Enough people write about it being paradise and a wedding resort. I don’t need to write about that anymore,” Davenport said.

“I try to write what I see as real life. I’m trying to tell stories of real people. It’s about people trying to stay alive.”

The character of Ana is loosely based on Davenport herself. She grew up on O‘ahu, and had cousins in Wai‘anae. She herself, did not have cancer, but her mother died from it.

“When I stopped and read it, inevitably there’s some bit of me in her. I did feel really abandoned because my mother died from cancer when I was really young, and that’s always been a big issue,” she said. “Quite a bit of it was based on fact.”

Ana’s cousin Rose was based on Davenport’s real-life cousin Rosamond Kehau Aho. Nikolai is based on her real-life meeting of Russian filmmaker Rostov Anadyr.

“My cousin Rosamond was really an inspiration to me,” she said. “This is also a sort of memorial to Rostov, because there’s never been closure. It made me think of all those prisoners of war and the Vietnam soldiers who are still missing in action. This perhaps brings closure to this man.”

The touchy subjects like Ana’s abandonment and life in Wai‘anae are pretty close to Davenport’s heart.

“Somehow this book got to me. I realized I was getting more into the emotional sides, and when you’re writing about something personal, it gets to you,” she said.

“I cried a lot with each draft. I was still crying by draft 22. I feel like every book I start is going to be easy, but then it gets very hard.”

Davenport made sure she stayed true to the real life in Hawai‘i and the individual characters with her casual use of pidgin, Hawaiian and Russian in the characters’ vernacular.

“It’s always so natural. Pidgin is so much a part of our language that it would sound unnatural to not use it,” she said.

That and her use of the Hawaiian language has been met with great responses, she said, from readers from around the world who have appreciation for Hawai‘i and its culture.

Her books have been translated into 14 different languages, and have Hawaiian and Russian glossaries in the back of the books to help readers understand the words.

Although her use of the language in the book has been accepted, Davenport said she has met resistance when it comes to the titles of her books. Davenport said she always gives her books titles in Hawaiian, but is asked to change them.

“I fight for the titles in Hawaiian, but I always lose that battle. I’m still fighting that battle, and I hope that one day I can have a title in all Hawaiian,” she said.

“I feel I can write a book and have it be successful with a Hawaiian title,” she said.

“House of Many Gods” is not all hardships and tragedies. Davenport does tap into the cultural richness of the islands, and the beauty that can be found on the Wai‘anae Coast, and from the helicopter views of Kaua‘i.

Davenport has recently completed her national book tour for “House of Many Gods,” and is now doing her book tour for Hawai‘i.

She has been a Bunting Fellow at Harvard University, and a visiting writer at Wesleyan University. She is also a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Her short stories have won numerous O. Henry Awards and Pushcart prizes.

Davenport currently lives in New York and Hawai‘i.

Lanaly Cabalo, lifestyle writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or lcabalo@kauaipubco.com.

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