The Aloha Spirit (She Writes Press, August 2020)
What is “family”? How do families behave? Relate? Stick together? Who is and isn’t “family” – and why?
Captivating & Compelling
These questions and more swirl through the pages of a captivating new historical novel by Linda Ulleseit. Set in Hawaii and California, The Aloha Spirit is the compelling story of Dolores and her lifelong search for “family” and the aloha spirit.
We first meet Dolores when her father drops her off at a friend’s house. He and Dolores’s older brother are heading to California to find work.
Bewildered and feeling abandoned, the scrappy seven year-old soon wearies of the never-ending, back-breaking work at Noelani’s. Dolores dreams of re-joining her family on the mainland. But when her father finally invites her to join him in California some four years later, Dolores isn’t exactly turning cartwheels at the prospect.
Several different settings and experiences later, Dolores eventually learns that family “just is.” You don’t “choose it or grow it.” Most of the time “you just deal with it” with love and patience. She also learns that “family” sometimes means loving a person without loving everything they do.
A fascinating, clever blend of history, culture and customs, The Aloha Spirit is divided into three parts. It covers 28 years between 1922 and 1950. In Part 1 Dolores goes from one “odd person out” context of “family, but not really” to the next.
The story takes readers to the sugar-white sand beaches of Hawaii and Diamond Head, San Francisco and the World’s Fair, and a backyard shelter during the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. We eventually wind up in Sunnyvale and then San Jose, California.
Along Dolores’ journey of personal growth and self-discovery, The Aloha Spirit gently shows us how even a blood brother can be ‘ohana in name only. How friends can be closer than sisters. What keeping “aloha in your heart” really means. And why.
It also shows us how and why “Aloha” is much more than a greeting or a farewell. It also means giving kindness and appreciation to everyone, even family members who are hard to love. Aloha is “the joyous sharing of life’s energy,” as Dolores finds out in her teenage years. But to have aloha, you need to love yourself first. Dolores finds this out later, when her teen marriage to Manolo unravels. Then family ties are sorely tested when Dolores and her two children evacuate Hawaii for California and her brother’s place after Pearl Harbor is bombed.
Somewhere along the way, Dolores falls in love with Alberto. She’s still married to a jerk. But Dolores is Catholic. And Catholics don’t divorce. Especially when doing so means losing her family.
Dialogue attributed to a grade schooler strains credulity at times in Part 1. Joining Dolores in the kitchen to chop veggies or stir stew also gets a little old. But The Aloha Spirit quickly rises above such mundanities and paints a vast, vibrant mosaic of time, culture, loss and disappointment, triumph and redemption.
Poignant and captivating, The Aloha Spirit brims with gentle insights and fascinating cultural and historical vignettes. This book has a realistic, authentic feel to it that makes it a winsome read. Characters are dynamic and three-dimensional. Fortified with rich, lyrical prose, settings are lush and unique. You can almost feel the trade winds and smell the pikake blooms as Dolores slowly realizes the true meaning of familia es todo.
A delicious read. Aloha.
Our rating: 4.0
Diamond Head Image Credit