Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Hello World.

How retrograde is this:  One of the first film producers interested in Crazy Rich Asians wanted certain key roles to be rewritten as Caucasian. Shocking? Not if you know Hollywood's history of whitewashing - the practice of casting white actors to play minorities - Asians, African Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and so on.

Here's a quick reminder.  Referencing back to 1915 when the very white Mary Pickford was cast as Cio Cio San, tragic Chinese beauty in the film, Madame Butterfly, Hollywood has been whitewashing minority characters FOR OVER A CENTURY.

1937. Paul Muni, white American actor, and Luise Rainer,  white German actress, (both previous Oscar-winners) were cast as poor Chinese farmers in Imperial China in the screen adaptation of Pearl Buck's masterpiece, The Good Earth. (Recently viewed, the makeup is ludicrous.  Rainer looks like Meryl Streep with her eyes taped.)

1946. Another Pearl Buck novel about China, Dragon Seed, was adapted to the screen. The Chinese heroine, Jade, was played by an exaggeratedly slant-eyed...Katherine Hepburn. ??? Mind-boggling.

The practice continued down the decades.Whites in blackface, yellowface, redface. 1949. Jeanne Crain cast as a black girl passing for white in Pinky.  Jennifer Jones cast as a Eurasian beauty in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. 1956. Marlon Brando ludicrously cast as a Japanese! in Teahouse of the August Moon.  Whitewashed films with big Hollywood names never slowed down. They prevailed through the 60s, 70s, 80s 90s, and  galloped right into the Millenia.

More recently.  2013. Johnny Depp plays Tonto in The Lone Ranger. (Yes, it was a spoof. But still insulting to Native Americans.)  2015. In the disastrous film, Aloha, set in Hawai'i,  the very pale-faced Emma Stone plays a Chinese-Hawaiian in weird, tan makeup. (Especially nauseating to me, a Native Hawaiian.)  2017. Scarlett Johannson plays Japanese cyber-punk Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell.  Plus dozens more.  Fill in the blanks.

Yes, established movie stars are bankable. Unknowns are not. So maybe it's more than institutional racism. The problem is, 90% of Hollywood film executives are white.  Which leaves non-whites grossly under-represented as film makers and actors.  Until there is more diversity at the top, for all it's 'progressive politics,' Hollywood will remain stunningly retrograde.

By my reckoning, from the release of The Good Earth in 1937 to 1993 when The Joy Luck Club  was released, the only major Hollywood movies with predominantly Asian casts were films about Martial Arts, Triad Wars, and opiated thugs who spit.

No wonder Crazy Rich Asians is being hailed as not just a movie but a revolution powered by phenomenal box office receipts. As of December 2018, the film had earned over $238,000,000 global dollars, against a $30,000,000 budget.

In spite of its banalities - its rom-com tropes, ear-splitting mandopop soundtrack, and spoofing of trans-national plutocracy, Crazy Rich Asians is the first Asian-American-centric story to hit the big screen in a generation.  A sexy, funny, shockingly outrageous film with a slangy stew of languages - Malaysian,  American, Singaporean, British, Australian - which explains its global appeal.  Best of all, it's powered by an all Asian cast.  Think of it.  For twenty-five  years Asian-Americans have had no real presence on the big screen, no representation of their lives.

Unlike that other breakout film, Black Panther - a cathartic film that confronts America's history of slave labor and earned over $1.2 billion global dollars - Crazy Rich Asians doesn't wage war on America's past neglect of Asian Americans.  With their world-wide digital footprint and phenomenal purchasing power, they don't need payback. What they want - and deserve - is representation. Finally, in an over-the-top spoof, it's here.  A film that's perceived as universal rather than just Asian because it speaks to each of us - anyone who's ever been an outsider. Anyone who has longed to belong.

With its eye ever on the bottom-line, Hollywood has always been curiously slow to grasp movie audiences' saturation  points (Rocky VI? Batman X?) and changing tastes. Television seems to be quicker on the draw, with prime-time multi-cultural series winning awards and loyal fans.  But we're concerned here with big-screen major studio releases on a global scale.

We live in chaotic, incendiary times.  We long for movies that reassure us that we count.  Stories that speak to us, to our individual ethnicities.  Box office receipts from Black Panther and CRA will hopefully jolt Hollywood awake to the financial and moral imperatives to make more films of diversity with authentic actors.

Of course, in all candour, there are minuses galore in Crazy Rich AsiansIt omits Singlish - the  patois of Singaporeans.  The casting is a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Korea diaspora-actors of different  nationalities that excludes real South and Southeast Asians - Malays, Indians, Eurasians - largest populations in Singapore.

And there is blatant tokenism.  The only real South Asians glimpsed are house-servants and Gurkha guards.  Invisibility - a form of racism by omission. (Although, again, the film is meant as a selective send-up of wealthy plutocrats. )

Singaporean critics have condemned the film as representing the worst of their country and completely erasing minorities, the poor, the marginalized. "It's not a film made for Singaporeans, but rather a high-fantasy escapist film  made for maximum appeal to rich East-Asians."

But, still.  With its cliched but appealing love story, its regard for the sacredness of family, and its old-fashioned take-off on The Great Gatsby - rich girls in flapper dresses dancing to Singaporean jazz bands - Crazy Rich Asians is the highest grossing  romantic comedy of the last ten years.  And the sixth highest grossing ever. Jon Chu, Director, wanted the movie to convey the old, classic Hollywood movies 'with style and pizzazz.'  His synchronized water-ballet is a tribute to the Busby Berkley films of the 1930s.

Mixed in with the crassness and grossly exaggerated wealth of CRA,  there are genuinely touching scenes: three generations of family wrapping jiaozi dumplings in the old, traditional way.  A mahjong scene where a mother and an American 'interloper' compete for her son's love, both fearing they will lose. And predictably, heartfelt lectures on familial responsibilities vs. momentary passions.

The confession scene between the China-born mother and her Americanized daughter reduced me to tears.  Likewise, the over-the-top wedding scene with its 'sappy' Elvis Presley love song.  Tears, belly-laughs - there's been such a dearth in recent films, we long for such catharsis.

And there's definitely laughter.  Youtube star, Awkwafina, as Goh Peik Lin, with her hip-hop swagger and  killer comedic voice, urges her American friend to never kowtow to her boyfriend's forbidding mother.  "She's playing 'chicken' with you! But you can't swerve. Chickens are bitches! You gotta' walk right up to her and tell her, "Bok! Bok! Bitch."

Again, Crazy Rich Asians is not War and PeaceIt's a feel-good rom-com with  million dollar props.  The excitement here is that the all-Asian cast is a breakthrough, long overdue, which is already paving the way for more - and more realistic - Asian-American films.  Thanks to Kevin Kwan, the book's author, and Jon Chu, hopefully there will be no more cliche, racist roles offered to Asian actors - evil dragon ladies, bow-legged uncles pattering in ching-chong - while  the major Asian roles are changed to Caucasian, or worse, given to whites made up in yellowface.

The Hollywood practice of whitewashing minorities (of any color) is a gross anachronism.  It has to be abolished.  Likewise, the word 'minority.'

Finally, I want to address certain mainstream film critics, Americans, Brits, Asians, who -  rather than applaud the groundbreaking casting, and the ultra feel-goodness of the film - excoriated Crazy Rich Asians across the board as  "...embarrassing,"  "...gauche,"  "...opulence porn," "...revolting film about rich white wannabe's,"  "disgraceful,"  "...disgusting,"  " embarrassment to Asians."

My response to them is this: Fangsong Huo Kefu Ta!  Get over it!  Revolutions are not about good taste.  Or, to quote Awkwafina... "Bok! Bok! Bitch."

Thanks, and Imua.

(This post is dedicated to my beloved uncle, Ayau Kam, Sr. who instilled in me a  deep love of films. Once a month we went to the Chinese Cinema in Honolulu.  The first adult movie I ever saw was Ben Hur, in Shanghanese.) 

Friday, November 11, 2016


Hello World.

For the past three months I campaigned for Hillary Clinton. I voted for her. I was at Javits Center in New York City on Election Night, thousands of us prematurely jubilant and chanting, prepared to splash champagne and celebrate her victory.

Hillary chose the massive and modernistic Javits Center for her celebration because of its glass ceiling. Which she would symbolically break that night by becoming our First Female President.

Then something happened. Voting results started coming in. Hillary was ahead, Trump was trailing.  Then suddenly Trump was gaining. Things grew quiet in Javits Center. Thousands of us watched the numbers change. Trump was suddenly ahead. Then a red-faced man stood up on a chair and shouted. "JESUS CHRIST! TRUMP IS SURGING!" People screamed. I saw black women kneel and pray.

The rest is history. Hillary never appeared that night. At 2:30 A.M. her campaign manager John Podesta appeared onstage and solemnly announced that there would be no fireworks, no celebration. I think he said, "Go home and pray." By then Hillary had called Donald Trump and conceded. Thousands of us  stood in the streets at 3 A.M. stunned and literally speechless.

America is still asking itself WHAT HAPPENED? After a good long cry,  I set myself the task of finding out how the polls that predicted Hillary's victory had been so mind-blowingly WRONG. I've talked to friends in Florida, in Iowa, in Texas, in Michigan. I reran documentaries by political watchdogs like Michael Moore warning us that Trump would win the election. I've talked to a senator. And to hardhats working on construction sites.

Now I understand that EVERYTHING was wrong, not just the polls. Like many East Coast Liberals, and West Coast liberals, and liberals of my beloved homeland, Hawaii, we have not been listening closely. Our country has been in existential crisis for years. Long before 9/11, Americans of the heartland have been crying out for change.

That's why this Presidential race transmogrified into one long, extended nervous breakdown. The gang fights and blood baths at the rallies, the club-swinging SWAT teams in the streets.  Meanwhile, only one bombastic big mouth with over-bottled hair seemed to hear the deep rage pouring out of rural America. Only Trump seemed to heed the burning frustrations of the Heartland.

Suddenly this Cro-Magnon of a billionaire became the voice of America's Rust Belt, its Root-Worm Belt, its unreconstructed flood towns, its dead factory towns, its unemployed, its uninsured, its disenfranchised, its uneducated, and perennially ignored.  And, importantly, its  disabled veterans, young men and women who sacrificed their youth, their limbs, their futures for wars they didn't want and never understood.

Somehow Donald Trump became their champion. He crapped all over our government.  He crapped all over the status quo. He became a force for pandemonium, promising to purge the 'garbage in Washington,' bring in fresh blood and start to heal the living scars of towns across our country.  This beast of unknown phylum had hit a chord with voiceless Americans.

I'm not sure America desired Donald Trump as much as it desired CHANGE. The chance to repudiate the status quo. Americans wanted to be HEARD.  In their eyes the Democrats offered nothing.  Hillary Clinton was 'recycled.' She had been part of Washington's elite 'back-scratchers' for decades.  She had not 'worked enough for rural America.' Plus there were too many blips in her moral codes. The email chronicles, the disappeared funds of millions of dollars in the Clinton Foundation.

Trump attacked her with a vengeance, blaming her and her 'establishment chronies' for the  psychic and fiscal carnage in America. It may be that Trump needed the unemployed and the disenfranchised as much as they needed him. Forgotten America gave him a platform, a cause. And Trump gave them a VOICE.

Then I learned something I already knew, but had not paid attention to. Marching alongside rural America were the New Millennials. Strange bedfellows? No. Because young, smart, ambitious Millennials also wanted CHANGE. Drastic change. That's why they, too, voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Male, female. Whites, Asians, Blacks, even deracinated Native Americans. Their message?

              "The average middle-class white voter has gone the way of the woolly mammoth. Voters today are younger, smarter, more culturally diverse, more progressive and global in their thinking.  Our current government has not kept pace. It's an 'old-establishment' corpse waiting for a coffin. It's time to give the corpse a proper burial. Bring in new flesh and blood. Trump will do this. His renegade-ethos is what gave him the election."

 Inevitably,  I asked Millennials how they felt about Hillary's failure to break the glass ceiling and become the first woman President. A young female attorney looked at me and shrugged.  "I voted for Donald Trump. Sure, he's a bully and a bigot. But he's smart. He'll make important changes. The Democrats should have offered someone fierce and new, not Hillary Clinton. We need more than a vagina in the White House."

My daughter, Anita, and son-in-law, Robert, voted for Trump. When I asked my daughter why, she reiterated the young attorney's response. "Hillary represents the old establishment. The same worn-out  rhetoric. America is dying for new, radical changes. I voted for a President, not a vagina."

Still, I am sad. I think of important issues Hillary fought for during her decades in politics. Higher wages for women, higher education for underprivileged children, more subsidized child care centers, more support for HIV patients, more research on the HIV virus. The right of every woman to a legal abortion.  These were milestones we cannot forget.

Hilary's election to the Presidency would have been a culmination of the Equality we women marched and fought for in the 1970's. She  did not win, but she has paved the way. One day a woman will be elected President.  But not today.

As for  Donald Trump. How will he settle into the role of President? Perhaps the way a fakir settles on a bed of nails. Extremely cautiously.  Or perhaps his  gargantuan ego will prevail, and throw America into chaos in the first one hundred days.  My most fervent hope is that he keeps his promise to the Heartland. That he creates millions of jobs and brings our people to their feet.

Meanwhile, I think of the way he garbles English, how he turns sentences into tossed salads with the gravitas of a Nobel recipient. How will he communicate with World Leaders?  How will they react to the flying buttress of his Day-Glo hair?

I think of his temperament, how it swerves from feigned prissiness to projectile-vomiting rage. How will he control it? We can only pray.

And if the gods are good, he will  begin to learn restraint, and maybe gray his hair. And most importantly, surround himself with experienced, level-headed advisors who understand Diplomacy.

Time will tell. For America, each day is now a leaping. Pray the net will appear.

I love you all.  Mahalo.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


Hello World.

I want to tell you a story about a secret I carried for years. And about the woman who changed my life. Her name is Lorraine Dusky, and she has written a brilliant memoir, HOLE IN MY HEART, that should be read by everyone.

Here is my story. Years ago, after I graduated from the University of Hawaii, I came to New York City to become a writer. With me came a secret I had never told, not even to my family. After several years in New York I met Lorraine Dusky. We were both working at a public relations firm, while we struggled to become published authors. I was publicizing wigs, Lorraine was publicizing baby products.

 We became good friends, and used to go for lunch and drinks to an old New York establishment called  'Bill's Gay Nineties.'  One day at lunch, Lorraine said to me, "I have something to tell you. I had a child. I was not married. I gave her up for adoption. I don't know where she is." I remember how I sat back, and stared at her. Then I said, "Oh my god. So did I." We fell sobbing into each other's arms and bonded for life.

Years later Lorraine Dusky helped me find my child. I wasn't searching for her to break up her  adoptive family. I simply wanted to know she was healthy and okay, and I wanted her to know her family history and medical history. I searched for years, but all adoption records were sealed. I hit blank walls repeatedly. By then Lorraine was searching for her own child, and she was also working to have sealed adoption records opened, so children could have crucial access to their medical records and to their natural mothers if they so desired.

My daughter was 21 when, with Lorraine's help, I finally found her. I discovered that she and her adoptive mother had begun to search for me, because she was deeply troubled by not knowing her background, who she was, where she came from. They had searched and searched, to no avail. Again - all adoption records were sealed.  Until I found my daughter, she had no idea she had Native Hawaiian blood on my side, or Italian blood on her natural father's side. The couple who adopted her were German-American. She is brunette and looked nothing like them. She later told me that for twenty-one years, when she looked in the mirror what she saw was a blank.

Mine is a rather happy ending. I found my daughter, and became close to her adoptive mother. Not all mother-child reunions are happy, there is often anger and resentment on the part of the adoptee, as well as tremendous guilt on the part of the natural mother. I am still riddled with guilt for having given my child up for adoption, though I had no alternative. Giving a child away is an unnatural act. Even after they are found we grieve, for all the lost years that can never be reclaimed.

This is essentially the end of my story. I found the child I gave away. But, one thing more. After we grew close my daughter confided this to me. "Until you found me, there was this empty room inside my mind. It was huge, and filled with everything about me, my identity, my DNA, my ancestors, where all my relatives lived in this world. But I could not get into this room, because the door was locked." She said that she had been afraid she would spend her life without ever getting inside that room. She would die without knowing who she was. Thanks to Lorraine Dusky, my daughter was finally able to unlock the door.  

Lorraine changed my life and my daughter's life, and her memoir HOLE IN MY HEART will change your life.  It's the powerful story of a mother separated from her child by adoption and the state-imposed secrecy that kept them apart. Defying convention, Lorraine Dusky finally reunited with her daughter in the 1980s when such reunions were rare. The story continues where most adoption memoirs end, giving an inside look at what happens after reunion. Lorraine found redemption not only in advocating for ending secrecy in adoption, she also became a role model for other struggling lost mothers.

But this is not simply an adoption story of lost and found, its also about one woman's life as a prize-winning journalist, breaking out of 'women's departments' and breaking down the barriers for other women writers. Along the way the reader learns of her rich life as a wife, mother, grandmother and dedicated advocate for reform of American's antiquated adoption system. Lorraine's writing is passionate and eloquent. Her restraint in telling her tragic, timeless, and redemptive story is an extraordinary feat. HOLE IN MY HEART is an American classic and should be read by everyone.

I'm very proud to know Lorraine. Proud of the work she is doing to reform adoption records. At personal risk, and at great personal sacrifice, she has changed the lives of thousands.  Here we are, she and I, at a recent reading of HOLE IN MY HEART at Canio's Bookstore in Sag Harbor, Long Island. I introduced Lorraine. The store was filled to capacity, to Standing Room Only. At the end of Lorraine's reading, the audience gave her a standing ovation. Bravo! To my brave and beloved friend.

Thank you all for reading HOLE IN MY HEART.  Now Available at Amazon.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Hello, World.

Some nights when tradewinds blow I dream of Shangri La, the island home of Doris Duke near Diamond Head, outside Honolulu. It is where Doris should have died. Instead she died far away, essentially alone, with no friends or family. The same way Uncle 'Ono died.

What I want to tell you is how I, a keiki o ka 'aina (child of the land), a simple native Hawaiian girl, came to know Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress, once considered the ''richest woman in the world."

Doris Duke

Shangri La

I want to tell you how, out of guilt for breaking my uncle's heart, she took me under her wing when I first arrived in New York City from Honolulu. My dream had always been to live in Greenwich Village and write great, galloping novels that made readers weep. My family in Honolulu could not dissuade me from my dream, so Uncle 'Ono wrote to Doris, asking her to look after me.
Shangri La

She was sixty when I was first summoned to her Park Avenue penthouse, one of her many residences. Doris was exceptionally tall. Her eyes were startling, set wide apart. She saw immediately that I was in need of guidance. My clothes were wrong, my manners. I was twenty-one, an age when sixty seems very old, when youth gives one a sense of entitlement so we take everything for granted. By then I was so intoxicated with New York, nothing seemed to phase me, not even meeting Doris Duke.

To me she was just an aging heiress who had offered to ease my entry into the city. Looking back, I marvel at my insouciance, and ignorance. I didn't question how Uncle 'Ono, a simple Hawaiian cowboy, knew Doris, or how he had summoned the nerve to ask such a favor of her, or why she was so kind to me. She was divorced and childless then, and I thought that perhaps she saw me as a longed-for daughter. (Years later she did adopt a daughter, which proved to be a disaster.)

 Doris quietly set out to refine the 'rough island girl' in me. She taught me how to speak without over-gesturing, and to never call a waiter 'sir.' She taught me where to shop, where not to shop, and the importance of wearing expensive shoes. She arranged interviews, and I was hired at Harper's Bazaar as editorial assistant. The salary was laughable, but Doris was generous with her hand-me-downs: barely-worn Halstons, de la Rentas.

I came from an old, kama'aina Hawaiian family who traced their roots back to King Kamehameha. An uncle, the Honorable George Keli'iokalani Houghtailing, had been the City Planner of Honolulu for over twenty years. Though we were now working-class, my family history gave me a certain confidence, and once Doris felt I was presentable, she began introducing me to the 'right crowd,' which I eventually realized was the wrong crowd for me. A homegirl from Honolulu's tough precincts of Kalihi and Farrington High School, from warring gangs of mix-bloods and Samoans, in New York I was inevitably drawn to the counter-culture - punk rock groups, war protestors, hippies and druggies. I had found my precinct, and it was far from Doris Duke's Park Avenue address.

Still, I discovered she had a wildly artistic streak and a reputation for being eccentric, flamboyantly zany. She wore designer hats and dresses backward if they looked more interesting that way. She hand-painted orchids and peacocks on her custom-made Italian shoes. With common sewing thread, she mended cushions of Louis XV sofas which her dogs regularly chewed apart. She taught me how to brighten my eyes with orange juice. How to tighten my pores with Elmer's Glue. And above all, to never sunbathe again. "Or your face will end up looking like a testicle."

Even at sixty she was a rebel, ahead of her time. She had 'bi-racial' affairs, consulted Indian gurus, was a serious student of bellydancing, and basically supported a ragtag band of musicians with whom she played jazz piano. She also sang with the black gospel choir of a Baptist church, which she said were her happiest times. Friends accepted her quirks because of who she was. But, there were few people Doris trusted or loved. One had to earn her love. In truth, I never made the effort.

By then I was living on Barrow Street, in thrall with the downtown life, and Doris began to seem like an aging elder I was obligated to visit. I think she sensed this, so that she never grew more than fond of me, like a half-mongrel dog she had promised to feed and groom. Long after she dropped me - after I vastly disappointed her - I learned that everything she did for me she was really doing for Uncle 'Ono. A way of asking his forgiveness. She had learned too late - long after she shattered his life, then walked away from him - that what he had offered her was love in all its purity and innocence, and that such love would not come to her again.

 Still, for several years she persevered, prudently excluding me from her more illustrious galas where barons of industry and foreign potentates presided, along with grandes dames like Jane Englehardt, Elizabeth Fondaris, or members of New York's founding families - the Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, Van Burens. But she included me in informal dinners and gallery openings where groups were more colorful, artistic and diverse, so that in time I learned to match names with personalities. Andy Warhol. Rudolph Nureyev. Truman Capote.

It was when we were alone that I saw glimpses of the real Doris Duke. The young woman Uncle 'Ono first fell in love with. On a drive out to her farm in Hillsborough, New Jersey, she mentioned her lonely childhood - the father who left her millions but did not teach her how to trust; the cold, resentful mother whom Doris had to sue to legally lay claim to her inheritance. Raised by bodyguards and governesses, she had seldom played with other children. She asked about my childhood, how I survived my mother's death when I was ten. I said I didn't cry when Mother died, but that I cried years later, and that I still cried. Doris took my hand and held it for the rest of that long drive. I loved her then. I wish I had told her.

Duke Farms
Her place in New Jersey, Duke Farms, was a 3,000 acre estate with a manor house of nearly fifty rooms, each room massive, filled with Flemish and Turkish tapestries, French period furniture, huge canvases by Gainsborough, El Greco. The grounds outside went on for miles, a veritable park full of wildlife, ponds and bridges, plus an entire village imported from Thailand and reconstructed. I was not intimidated by Duke Farms because I didn't understand that Doris owned the place.The grounds were patrolled by security guards, the house protected by alarm systems, and I assumed Duke Farms was owned by the state of New Jersey, the way New York owned Central Park, and that Doris's tobacco millions helped subsidize the upkeep of the place. So, of course, she was free to visit there. At the time, I could not fathom one person owning such vast amounts of real estate.

 It was at Rough Point, Doris's other 'country' residence, in Newport, Rhode Island, that she finally talked about her affair with Uncle 'Ono. Rough Point was even more forbidding than Duke Farms, one of those Gilded Age, English Manor monstrosities of granite and redstone, originally constructed by a Vanderbilt. Set behind boulders overlooking the sea, with more than one hundred and fifty rooms, some rooms so vast our footsteps echoed, the place was like a fortress, medieval, forbidding.

As with Duke Farms, every wall seemed covered with tapestries, every room boasting ancient Greek and Roman statuary, baronial fireplaces, portraits by the Old Masters. Even the staff quarters, where I preferred to sleep, were patrolled by security guards so, again, I assumed that the place was owned by the state, and in return for vast endowments towards its upkeep, Doris was allowed to visit at her leisure. The way royalty might visit a museum. I did not yet grasp that Rough Point was privately owned, that it belonged to Doris. So, I was puzzled by how her dogs had the run of the place.

Rough Point

Rough Point Camels

 Sometimes even her Bactrian camels, Baby and Princess, found their way inside the house, leaving their droppings on priceless Persian carpets. Much has been written about those creatures, gifts from a fabled Saudi sheikh. They were usually consigned to the back yard overlooking the ocean, where at all hours of the day and night they bleated and honked like laryngitic yodelers. During a heavy storm Doris brought them into the solarium, where we calmed them down with bags of Oreos and Saltines. She said Rough Point was their permanent home. In spite of their musty, fecal smell, I worried about those camels. They were stuck in the wrong geography. Loping around with their dreamy gaits, sometimes they stopped and gazed into the distance as if longing for their Gobi sands.

Doris never mentioned ex-husbands - the playboys, the yachts, the foreign cars. But one day she spoke of 'Ono. "A long time ago I wanted to bring your uncle here. I wanted to marry him."
He was really my great-uncle, Grandfather's youngest brother. His given name was 'Onohiawa, eyeball of the fish, but he was such a sweet child, the family called him 'ono. Delicious. He grew up to be strikingly handsome, with the husky eroticism and fluid grace of our Hawaiian men. His great love were horses; he had a touch that calmed them down. Half the year he worked on ranches as paniolo, the other half at the polo grounds outside Honolulu, training skittish thoroughbreds for the polo season. That was how Doris first saw him, like a dark god riding across the playing fields.

 She had always loved our island men, especially Duke Kahanamoku, Olympic Champ, movie star, our island royalty. But Duke and his handsome brothers would not kowtow to Doris. They were surfers and playboys; they were not her hired help. They showed up late for parties at Shangri La with barefoot, half-naked women. When Doris scolded them, they laughed, unimpressed by her vast wealth. It was said that she intentionally miscarried a child fathered by Duke, and they drifted apart.

Doris and Kahanamoku Brothers
Uncle 'Ono's wife had died in childbirth, and he was left to raise four children. Folks said he was a good and loving father. But when he met Doris, he lost all sense of family, all sense of obligation. He even lost his balance. For the first time in his life, he fell off a horse. Then he abandoned his children, sending them off-island to his parents. They would grow up not knowing him, and would choose to never know him. 'Ono was oblivious to everything, besotted with this creature, Doris Duke.

On one of my trips home to visit the family, Uncle 'Ono told me how they had fallen in love, how he had 'kidnapped' Doris from her rich life, and turned her into an island girl. She was in her twenties then, ravenous for life, perhaps for the childhood she never had. 'Ono gently drew her out, and taught her the simple verities: that the secret to living was Life itself! To be alive to every minute, every hour. And that the greatest miracle was Nature. Its cycles, and seasons.

 He taught her how to ride Western, how to shoot from the saddle. He took her wild-boar hunting and showed her how to skin the carcass. They rode out to the west coast of the island, where they surfed with the fabled Water Men of Makaha. And when they felt she had earned it, the elders tattooed a tiny surfboard on her hip. For weeks they lived in the rainforests where 'Ono taught her to survive by scooping up termites from hollow trees, spitting out the bitter heads and swallowing the bodies.

He taught her how to suck out the fetuses from gecko eggs, to place the living things inside her bottom lip, which kept them warm and wriggling until he pierced them with a fishing hook. This always attracted parrotfish. Afterwards, they sat gutting and skinning their day's catch. Doris grew so proficient with a gutting knife, she would take the sharp edge and expertly run it down 'Ono's chest, arms and legs, shaving each fish scale from his skin without drawing one drop of blood. At night he rubbed her with kukui oil to shield her pale skin from the sun. Eventually, she turned a golden bronze and looked like a pale-eyed hapa girl. A mixed-blood. Months passed, a year, then another. She traveled, collecting Islamic art for her home, Shangri La. When she returned, 'Ono was waiting.

 When did she begin to miss Duke Farms? Rough Point? When did she grow bored with simple island life? Uncle declared his love for her, asked her to give up her inheritance, donate it all to charity, sell her many homes. They would live a simple life, raising horses on a ranch. By then Doris was deeply in love with him, perhaps because her wealth meant nothing to him. He looked upon it with disdain, refusing all gifts from her. He loved Doris for herself, his blonde and pale-eyed 'island girl.' One night she proposed to him, and asked him to move back east with her.

I have tried to imagine 'Ono at Duke Farms. Rough Point. The NewYork penthouse. Her many residences, her help-staff of several hundred. Like her camels, Baby and Princess, he would be stuck in the wrong geography. Doris's friends would regard him as a joke. A glorified bodyguard. Her bronze, island trophy. She would no doubt school him in his dress, his manners, and in time he would lose himself, become something else, perhaps someone impeccable and ruthless.

Hawaiians are not by nature ruthless. We cannot be honed or molded. 'Ono tried explaining it to her. Great wealth often engenders arrogance, so perhaps Doris was more insulted than heartbroken when Uncle said he could not marry her. That he could not leave his islands, even for her. One week later, she sailed from Hawaii on the Lurline. After that she returned to Shangri La every year, but she refused to see 'Ono ever again.

That day at Rough Point, I summoned the courage to ask if, after all these years, she still loved him. She looked away before she answered. "I always will. He was the finest man I ever knew." I asked why she refused to ever see him again. She answered simply. "Pride."

Months later, I was arrested at a sleazy downtown club. Possession of cocaine and marijuana. Eight of us were arrested, including a famous rock star, so of course it made the evening news with pictures of us handcuffed in a police van. A family lawyer from Honolulu flew in to bail me out, then flew me home until the hearing. Two years later I returned to New York City, humbled, sober, more mature. I wrote Doris a letter of apology; there was no reply. One day I approached her at a gallery-opening. She glanced at me, then abruptly turned her back. We didn't speak for twenty years.

I was in my forties when I got word that Uncle 'Ono was very ill. He was in his eighties, and I had always loved him. I flew home to Honolulu. In the weeks before his death, I spent days holding his hand in his sad, little cabin up in the mountains. By then he didn't even own a horse. We reminisced for hours, and in that time he talked again about Doris, their love affair, how it was like getting struck by lightening. How he had forever dishonored himself by abandoning his children. And then his heartbreak when Doris walked away from him. "Like having my skin pulled off over my head." I called his children to tell them he was failing. By now they were adults with children of their own. I left several messages; no one ever answered them. One day I ran out of gas and got to uncle's cabin late. He had died that afternoon, alone.

After we buried him, I called Doris and left a message. The next day she called me back. She was frail and sickly then, and would die within a year. I had heard that she was wealthier than ever, that she had increased her father's fortune many times. That she surrounded herself with eccentrics who amused her, but that she had lived all those years alone, trusting no one. She asked how 'Ono died, and how his life had been. I was candid.

"After you left him, his life was over. He had already lost his children. Then he lost his jobs, his reputation. He couldn't seem to bounce back. He never remarried. He said he never loved again, he still loved you. He stayed heartbroken and alone for all these years." Doris was silent at the other end. A small sound came out of her throat, then finally she whispered. "I was wrong."

A year later I read that she died in a coma in her Los Angeles mansion, reportedly from large amounts of morphine administered by unlicensed doctors and a drunk butler, all arguing over who would be the trustee of her will. She was cremated, with no friends or family there for her.

I think of the two of them galloping across the land, young and selfish, madly in love. I think of how they paid for that love, for the rest of their lives. It may be that they had no choice, that their story was written millenia ago in ancient clay. Or, perhaps theirs is a cautionary tale, reminding us that love without honor, or with too much pride, leaves us warped and ultimately damned.

Still, I want to believe in fairy tales. I want believe that, at last, at last, Doris and Uncle found each other. That they abide in that other Shangri La, that mythical place where no one grows old, where all sins are forgiven.
Lovers in Doorway of Shangri La.

(This memoir is condensed from a longer memoir, "Shangri La," which will appear in my forthcoming collection, Tsunami Love: Prize-Winning Pacific Stories, Volume IV)

Mahalo Nui Loa. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Hello World.

In my travels I sometimes meet people I want to forget. But more often, there are characters I want always to remember! On my last trip to Russia, finishing research on my new novel, THE SOUL AJAR,  I spent long nights beside the Black Sea throwing back shots of vodka with an old bear of a Russian who claimed to have been a prisoner of war during WWII.

To my reckoning Nazdi Khabarovsky would have to be at least 90 years old to have fought in that war. He looked a mere youth of 80, but he was born in the Caucasus Mountains that tower over the Black Sea region of Russia, where people are known for their amazing longevity, so maybe Nazdi's war tales   were true. The story I loved most was why he became a writer.

As he told it, once during combat his plane was shot down. "You were a pilot?" I asked. "Not important," he said. And where was his plane shot down? "Not important." What he wanted to stress was that he was shot down over a forest buried in ice and snow. That a ravine of soft, deep snow had kept his plane from exploding on impact with the earth. And that everyone was killed but him. Thus, he lay semi-conscious in sub-zero weather for days, during which he lost all feeling in his feet, his legs and groin.

And that is how the enemy found him, patched him up and threw him in a prisoner-of-war camp. "The Germans?" I asked. As usual, Nazdi waved his hand. "Not important." After several weeks, he slowly regained feeling in his limbs. But no feeling returned to his testicles. "Frostbite. But not important." What was important was that after four years of torture and starvation he was liberated by the Yanks. And in a Red Cross hospital, several of his toes "and other things" were surgically removed.

 Nazdi understood he could never have children. So he decided he would have stories instead. He would write about all the absurdities and tragedies of war. About prisoners eating 'shit sausages,' from the cut-up intestines of dead comrades. About a stolen radio, men weeping at the sound of violins. About sadistic guards, knocked out and thrown on ice floes, and how prisoners cheered as the ice floes slowly sank. About bare-assed girls from distant villages backing up to link fences so prisoners could have sex with them. About tubercular men tenderly dancing together, coughing up blood on each other's shoulders. And about how even survivors were afraid to go home, knowing Stalin would execute them as 'traitors.'

After decades of writing stories that were never published - Russians did not want to read about war - Nazdi decided that NOW was the time for his big book. After 9/11, Iraq, Syria, the bloody revolutions of the Middle East, war was fashionable again! And so he began his POW memoir, the title of which broadly translates into English as HOW I SAVE MY LIFE BUT LOSE MY TESTICLES. "Many years in writing," Nazdi said. "Many false starts and detours."

In his struggle to turn random stories into his OPUS, Nazdi had finally found the perfect role model, a writer whose books were guiding him. "Real genius who help me upchuck this hairball of novel stuck in throat for decades." When I asked who, Nazdi threw out his arms like a man greeting heirs. "Your American! Most famous writer in all world!  Real Einstein of words!" "Ernest Hemingway?" I asked. "Nyet! Nyet!" Nazdi shouted. "More better than Hemingway." I searched my brain. "Saul Bellow? Stephen King?" "Nyet! Nyet!"

He stared at me in shock. "You don't know who was true American genius?? Was like American Shakespeare! Wrote many dozen books!" "Okay. Then give me a title." Nazdi sat back, struggling to translate titles into English. He finally leaned forward. "He write about... nickles. Da! Many nickles." I frowned, groping for some genius book about nickles. Or metals. Nazdi downed two shots of vodka, stared at his glass, then whispered. "Was like Star Wars...nickles... Martian...nickles." I sipped my vodka. Upchucked hairballs. Martians. Nickles. Then, like an epiphany, it came to me.

I turned to Nazdi and smiled. "You mean Ray Bradbury. THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. He jumped up from his chair and danced. "Da! Da! Great American genius! Bradbury. Loved by all the world!" He waved his arms and kissed the air. "He say novel is like big hairball. Takes patience. Many years to upchuck." After a while, Nazdi sat down again. "Now we live in age of terror. Mass killings everywhere. May be my war not so great, too long ago. So. I write book about surviving. How old prisoner of war lose toes, lose testicles, lose mind. But still could not be brainwashed. Not be destroyed. Good lesson for soldier today. Maybe also good for writers."

 The day we said da svidanya, goodbye, he introduced me to his son, a big strapping man in his sixties.  "Your son?" I said. "Da! Four sons, two daughters, many grandkids!" I stood there thinking of frostbitten testicles, which, presumably, had been surgically removed, which, presumably, is why Nazdi decided to father books instead. He waved and drove away, but in that last moment he looked back and winked. So maybe none of it was true. Still, it makes great fiction.

Months later Nazdi sent me a chapter of his novel, translated into a ripped-to-the-tits Caucasian-Russian version of English. Included was a kind of survival kit, based on 'four grueling years as a prisoner of war.' (Memoir? Fiction? Who can know?) Either way, he's right: it's also an excellent guide to surviving as a writer.  Herewith, for your pleasure.

The POW's Guide to Surviving:

1. Never give up hope.
2. Never scale down your dreams (of liberation, or success).
3. Create a routine: a time to work, a time to read, a time to sit and think, even pray.
4. Get Physical. Jogging, stretching, sit ups. It toughens the mind as well as the body.
5. Be prepared for torture, thirst, starvation. This is why you toughen your body and mind.
6. Keep a secret space for yourself. Don't give things away, your thoughts or dreams. (Your plots!)
7. Say the opposite of what they expect. Keep them guessing and unsure. (Readers like mystery)
8. Go back to daydreams and childhood, when you were innocent. It keeps you pure.
9. Your brain cannot be washed. In spite of torture, pain, starvation. Don't change what you believe in.  Don't give in! (For writers, that means not quitting.  Ever!)
10. Find humor where you can. Laugh, even if it kills you. Laugh out loud. It shocks the brain.
11.  Find three people to trust, love and care for. In return, they will love and care for you when you are down and out. You don't need more than three.  More is a burden.
12. Be patient.  Good things (liberation, or success) will come if you believe.
13. Lying is important to survival.  Lie your head off.  (The best liars are the best storytellers.)
14. Always act dumber than you are. Hide your intelligence. Use it as a secret weapon.
15.  Never give up. Never!  When you give up, you die.
16.  When your stomach is full (or, your rent is paid) give thanks.
17.  You were born. You are here. That in itself is a miracle. Again, give thanks.

Happy Writing,  Happy Reading!   Please add to the  above list in your comments!
Alohas, Kiana                                                   
                                                          (Now available  at Amazon)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Hello World.

This is a love letter to Vince Gilligan, creator of the brilliant AMC hit series, "Breaking Bad." It was a show that astonished audiences with its mind-blowing premise, its genius visuals, its brilliant cast. It was, and still is, the gold standard for a TV series. Television as God meant it to be.

We all remember Walter White, the anti-hero in the series, a chemistry teacher who transmorgrifies from Mr. Chips to Scarface! But what intrigued me most was Walter's son, a boy handicapped with cerebral palsy, played by the heartbreakingly handsome R.J. Mitte, an actor who in real life has cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that affects muscle development, therefore control of the body's movements.

Vince Gilligan was a genius into introducing this physically handicapped character, Walter, Jr., whose inclusion in the series was groundbreaking on many levels, especially because his presence in almost every episode of "Breaking Bad" alerted audiences to the dearth - in fact, the near-absence - of physically and mentally challenged characters on television, in feature films, novels, and even live theatre. (Unless they are portrayed as villains, vampires, demented freaks.)

Watching weekly episodes of "Breaking Bad," I realized that when writers choose to omit such characters from our novels, we are inadvertently rendering the physically and mentally handicapped people of the world "invisible." We are consigning them to the shadows. And, thus, our stories suffer from that lack of richness and diversity.

"Breaking Bad" provided me with the impetus to finally write about my dear friend, Andre, a  handsome and talented man who happens to suffer from albinism (the preferred word to 'albino') and its attendant limited vision in one eye. Thus, was born Adam Fleming, the CIA intelligence operative in my new novel, THE SOUL AJAR. (Written with Andre's approval.)

Though the character is fictional, I labored to accurately portray the isolation of an albino child, the terrible fear of sun that scarred skin lacking pigment, the unspoken envy of snakes who shed their skin each year. And later, the adult years of albinism with the attendant loss of vision in one eye, the awareness of being an eternal 'outsider,' and the sense of being 'unworthy' of love.

Of course, Adam Fleming, is psychologically complex, but THE SOUL AJAR is a political thriller and a love story, not a clinical study. I leave that to the medical experts. Still, with the creation of his character I made a vow: to create more fictional characters in my novels who reflect the actual world we live in - a world enriched with beautiful, creative, ingenious, and loving humans who happen to be burdened with mental or physical challenges.

My hope is that more of my fellow writers will join me in that resolution. And I hope my readers will help us by recommending books they have read that portray such heroic characters. In researching THE SOUL AJAR I read many clinical books on albinism. Alas, there are not many fictional adult books on the subject. Maybe readers can recommend whatever books I missed.

One novel I did discover and  highly recommend is 'Ghost Boy,' by Ian Lawrence. A beautiful YA novel about a boy with albinism who runs off to join a circus!  It's available on Amazon, and was recommended to me by NOAH: The National Association for Albinism and Hypopigmentation. I thank them for their help and the information on their website.

 Herewith, a scattering of other wonderful novels I recommend. Becoz of space I have only listed a few. But please write in your suggestions in the Comments space at the end of this posting.

1. FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, Dan Keyes -  A mentally challenged man. A classic.
2. JEWEL, Brett Lott. -  A child with Down's Syndrome. Beautifully rendered.
3. HOUSE RULES, Jodi Picoult -  An autistic child. Another beauty!
4. FORREST GUMP, Winston Groom - A fantasy about an 'idiot savant.' But I loved it.
5. UNTO THE FEAST OF THESE, Alison Winfree Pickrell - A child with cerebral palsy.
6. DEN OF LIONS, same author - Asthmatic librarian and handicapped man. Wonderful!
7. ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, Anthony Doerr - Blind girl during WWII. Recent.
 Again, please add your suggested books in the Comments space. And I will list them in a further blog. In closing, now and then remember to stop and look around. See who might need help. Hold out your hand.

Once more, A Big Shout Out to Vince Gilligan!

And I hope you enjoy THE SOUL AJAR.  (At Amazon.)
Happy Reading, and Alohas.   Kiana

Monday, November 3, 2014

THE SOUL AJAR, A LOVE STORY (continues...)

Hello World.

I'd like to announce publication of my new novel, THE SOUL AJAR, A Love Story.  Its now out in ebook form, and in two days as a paperback, published by 'Iolani  Press.  It's my first  attempt at writing a political thriller, and was an exhilarating experience to attempt another genre.  But I do think writers should expand and experiment, isn't that what artists do?

I also wanted a platform to write about my friend, Andrei, who is afflicted with albinism.  ("Albino" is really not the preferred word.)   I think more books should be written about  physically challenged characters. In a following blog I will go into detail about this subject and how R. J. Mitte, the wonderful actor  with cerebral palsy in the  brilliant TV series "Breaking Bad," deeply influenced me in the writing of THE SOUL AJAR.  For now,  here's a synopsis of the novel and I hope you will enjoy it!

"From the bestselling Hawaiian author of 'Shark Dialogues' and 'The Spy Lover' comes a riveting  political thriller and haunting love story. Based on a real-life friend of the author, here is the story of Adam, a handsome, Russian-American CIA operative afflicted with albinism. On undercover assignment in Honolulu, he meets Lily, a young Hawaiian journalist, who ultimately follows him to New York City. While struggling to gain his trust and love, she discovers his secret 'shadow life,' and that, as an albino, Adam feels undeserving of love. He grows increasingly distant until, heartbroken, Lily leaves him and makes her way in the city alone as a hard-hitting journalist.  It is only when Lily meets Bazil, Adam's colleague in the intelligence world, that she learns the terrible secret of Adam's past: his mother's execution by a Russian assassin,Yakoviev, an act Adam witnessed as a child. She learns why Adam's mother was murdered, and of his life-long obsession to avenge her death. While helping Bazil track his own love, Zahira - a beautiful Afghani girl running from the Taliban - Lily becomes inexorably enmeshed in Adam's search for Yakoviev, now a world-class killer financing Muslim fanatics.   Based on today's global terrorism and the unspeakable torture of women in the Middle East, 'The Soul Ajar' transports readers from Honolulu to New York City, from the wilds of Afghanistan to Georgian and Russian resort towns on the Black Sea, until finally - near a monastery deep in the Caucasus mountains of Russia - Adam confronts the monster, Yakoviev.  It is here that Lily discovers the depths of her courage in an unthinkable act she commits to save Adam's life.  In scenes both beautiful and harrowing, 'The Soul Ajar' unflinchingly examines the chaos of the present world we live in, while illuminating our timeless desire for human dignity and love."  
 ~ Praise for Kiana Davenport ~ 
"Davenport is a brilliant writer."  -- The Huffington Post. 
"Her prose is sharp and shining as a sword."  -- Isabel Allende 
"You can't read Kiana Davenport without being transformed."  -- Alice Walker 
"Davenport is a superb storyteller."  -- The Seattle Times  

Thank you, and happy reading!! 

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