Works by John R. K. Clark ’64, Mehana Blaich ’93 Vaughan, D. Kenneth Richardson ’48 and Margo Sorenson
Reviews by Christine Thomas
Kalaupapa Place Names: Waikolu to Nihoa
By John R. K. Clark ’64 Translations by Iāsona Ellinwood and Keao NeSmith UH Press; 377 pages; $28
In his newest book, meticulous researcher John Clark ’64 explores the place names of Kalaupapa and the lives of leprosy patients exiled there from across the Hawaiian Kingdom in the late 1800s. Unlike histories delivered through the lens of St. Damien or St. Marianne, Clark’s book instead elevates the residents through inclusion of more than 300 original letters printed in Hawaiian language newspapers of the time, many never before translated. “They spoke and wrote in their native language, and they brought their regional customs, skills and traditions with them, including their love of place names,” Clark writes.
Clark sets a personal tone from the start, dedicating the book to his great-great-grandmother, who was sent to Kalaupapa in 1884. The comprehensive place names section reveals that many were shaped by those who lived and died in the settlement. The translated newspaper letters – by government officials, Hawaiian royalty, visitors and patients – further lend an intimate texture.
As the letters reveal patient reports on settlement food rations, visits from monarchy and even political views after the overthrow, readers gain an insider view into life in this enigmatic place. “The articles show an active community with its members trying to live their lives as normally as possible in the face of a debilitating disease,” Clark says.
They wrote to amplify their voices throughout the Islands, and as seen in the included section of kanikau (emotional poetic dirges expressing deep feeling for someone who has died) also used print to memorialize loved ones. For Clark, these are now a treasury of information and place names.
While there is a lot to digest here, the book’s deliberate structure helps readers navigate by highlighting overall themes and details and making it simple to find information of particular interest. This is a title to keep on the shelves and return to for leisurely exploration or specific reference. It’s a book that exemplifies everything one expects from Clark – careful research, readable prose with thorough organization and empathy for his subject and readers.
Kaiāulu: Gathering Tides
By Mehana Blaich ’93 Vaughan Oregon State Press; 272 pages; $19.95
How do native Hawaiian communities cope with change, as people from elsewhere continue to move in, disrupting tradition without understanding the depth of their impact? Mehana Blaich ’93 Vaughan explores this emotional issue as it plays out in the Kaua‘i communities of Halela‘a and Ko‘olau, where she grew up and now lives. Twenty years of research, more than 80 interviews and personal community interaction culminated in “Kaiāulu,” which tracks the change, devastation from two tsunamis and evolution of these communities from 1910 to the present.
“I am just enough of an insider to be known,” Vaughan says of her role in researching the book. “I am also just enough of an outsider to be interested and require explanation of that which is obvious to people’s own ‘ohana.”
She has taken on a considered responsibility in writing respectfully, clearly and accurately about these native fishermen and women, and their intimate connection to the land they take care of, yet are displaced from – one Vaughan handles with obvious empathy.
Throughout the book, Vaughan includes personal stories of community moments, hoping to “bind this research together and illustrate the beauty, complexities, and resilience of this place.” Clearly the changes and growth on Kaua‘i are personal to Vaughan, and while her descriptions sometimes lean into the romantic, “Kaiāulu” is all the more successful for avoiding a removed academic tone. It succeeds through Vaughan’s compassionate prose, connecting readers to the complex native land and resource use issues and the creative solutions she offers.
In many ways, the book serves as an anthem for local community strength and leadership, revealing how when you truly know a place and feel yourself a part of it, you are compelled to take care of it. “A place and its people are one and the same,” Vaughan says, and this well-researched and thoughtfully conceived book is her way of taking care of the land she loves and calls home.
Sparking Innovation: Lessons to Spur America to Regain its Lead in Science and Engineering
By D. Kenneth Richardson ’48 SeaHill Press; 236 pages; $24.95
Though his 40-year career at Hughes Aircraft is now behind him, D. Kenneth Richardson ’48 remains passionate about technology and sharing his expertise in scientific innovation with the next generation. Early in 2018, Punahou K – 12 students began using the eponymous D. Kenneth Richardson ’48 Learning Lab in the Mamiya Science Center, a high-tech, professional design maker space, to create rapid prototypes of their designs. And now the community at large can engage with Richardson’s considered views on renewing our country’s success in science and engineering, presented in his new book, “Sparking Innovation.”
Richardson’s approach is practical and comprehensive, beginning by priming readers to consider well-known, but life-changing, innovations from the palaka shirt to the Golden Gate Bridge. He then begins to lay his model foundation for fostering success in the corporate environment, outlining ideal conditions that range from detailed to overarching, including vacation perks and his favorite stress-relieving activities to strategic workspace design and flexible management of the creative process.
The book hits its stride when Richardson allows the book’s often formal prose to turn personal, especially when it moves into first person and focuses on firsthand stories about problem-solving and inventive solutions during his time at Hughes. For it is Richardson’s unique perspective, derived in part from his time at what was once the world’s leading military electronic company, that makes his views on nurturing technology of interest. The inside knowledge and real-life examples that can only be shared by the man who lived it is what most effectively connects readers to the book.
“Sparking Innovation” stems from the distinct perspective of man assessing the future, while looking back on the ingredients that defined a successful career. It’s also a chance to meet Richardson within the pages of his book, and to be inspired by his view that technology can be at the forefront of our country’s purpose and future.
Secrets in Translation
By Margo Sorenson Regal Publishing; 244 pages; $26.95
A great story transports you away from the everyday, and in her new young adult novel, former Academy English instructor Margo Sorenson sends readers into a world of intrigue, romance and self-discovery in Positano, Italy. “Secrets in Translation” is at its heart a coming-of-age story centered on Alessandra, a high school senior in Sonoma, California. The twist is Alessandra’s position as both insider and outsider, raised by American diplomats in Italy and recently returned to America. The novel does well, however, to quickly move the story back to Italy, where Alessandra is convinced to babysit Carrie, a bold 12-year-old “tween,” during her parents’ summer of academic research.
Alessandra becomes the family’s guide to everything from Italian customs to being street smart, and the reader’s guide to the country’s mafia underbelly. The plot is propelled by a mystery centered on organized crime and the Italian youths that Alessandra and Carrie meet, complemented by an exciting romance on the side.
But returning to Italy also sparks an identity crisis that unfolds throughout the novel, for after struggling to fit into California teen life, Alessandra is confounded by how it feels to return. “Here I was, now feeling different in Italy,” she says, “where I used to feel at home.”
Teen readers should easily connect to Alessandra and her struggles fitting in, and can live vicariously through the freedoms allowed to this young girl on the cusp of womanhood. While Alessandra struggles with belonging to either America or Italy, she still benefits from Italian teen customs like drinking wine and staying out late. And though the mafia plotline is repeated heavily, as if readers won’t remember the details, it adds momentum, while Sorenson subtly develops the more emotional themes of belonging and home.
“Was it even possible to have more than one home?” Alessandra wonders early on. By the end, Sorenson neatly shows it possible to belong to two worlds, just like every teenager who must move gradually into adulthood.
Freelance writer and former Academy English teacher Christine Thomas is married to Kevin Greenwell ’89 and is a reader-of-books to sons Finn ’29 and Hugh ’31.
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