Carolyn Yoder, Charles Portis, Healing Waters: A Hawaiian Story, Kate Messner, Leper Colony, Leprosy, Moloka'i, Summer of Hammers and Angels, True Grit

Talk About Language! A Review of Healing Waters: A Hawaiian Story by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

If you are reading this in your email, don’t forget to click on the headline to go to my blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. Oh, and I love comments. Spurring me on this week is the following quote.
“Once the game is over, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.” ~ Italian Proverb
For my writer friends, here is a link to check out that might help you with writer’s block – something I’ve been dealing with lately:
Now, to announce the winner of the copy of The Summer ofHammers and Angels, (insert drumroll here) – Michelle Fayard! It will go out in the mail very soon. Congratulations, Michelle.
When I first began this blog back in January, I wrote a post about True Grit. I was fascinated with the language Charles Portis used for the dialogue in that book. It really set the reader in the time and place of the book. If you missed that review or would like to revisit it, click HERE.
Joyce Moyer Hostetter
In August, I attended a wonderful writer’s retreat run by the Highlights Foundation and led by the wonderful editor Carolyn Yoder. You can read about that, if you like, by clicking HERE. One of the special treats that comes with attending a workshop or retreat at Highlights run by Carolyn is that you will have some visiting authors. We had two this year: Kate Messner and Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Stay tuned because I’ll be writing about Kate Messner’s sweet books in a future blog, but today I want to write about Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s incredible book, HealingWaters: A Hawaiian Story. Now I’m still having trouble with my Amazon link, so clicking on the cover of the book won’t do you any good, but if you click on the title, it will link you to Amazon where you can order the book.
Joyce and her charming husband, Chuck, had a nice long visit with us, and Joyce talked about writing, researching, and the writer’s life in general. It was a lovely time. Then, as icing on the cake, Joyce gave each of us an autographed copy of her new book, HealingWaters: A Hawaiian Story. I finally found time last week, as I fought my way through a terrible flu, to read it. I have to admit, it was hard to feel sorry for my coughing, stuffy self reading this amazing story of a young boy with leprosy.
I didn’t know much about leprosy before reading this book, just a kind of horrific idea about a disease that caused body parts to fall away. I knew there had been leper colonies, but never really thought about what that meant.
Pia is quite young at the beginning of the story, and the story seems to be about his deep friendship with an older boy, Kamaka, a brother/father figure to him, and the wonderful life Pia has with his warm, extended family. A picture is drawn of typical family life among native Hawaiians. But when Pia is diagnosed with leprosy at age thirteen, Kamaka disappears from his life. No one seems to know why Kamaka refuses to see him. Shortly Pia is wrenched from his mother and little sister and sent to the leper colony on the island of Moloka‘i.
On Moloka‘i, Pia finds conditions harsh beyond belief. No one is there to protect the young from predatory people, there is no hospital or even housing, food is scarce, clothing non-existent. Pia is alone – terribly and completely alone. After living like a wild animal for some time, in order to survive, he finally becomes the slave of a man, Boki, who takes care of himself by stealing from and intimidating others. Pia becomes hardened by this life. One day, Pia faces Tamaka again when Tamaka arrives on the island with his wife. His wife, Malia, has leprosy and Tamaka found a way to come along to care for her. Malia and ultimately Tamaka force Pia to examine his life and work through his problems, becoming emotionally whole again. It is a remarkable coming-of-age story of friendship and love and persistence. And let me underline “love” in that. It demonstrates many kinds of love very authentically. You will care deeply about these characters and be moved by this story.
In this heartbreaking first-person account, Pia tells his sad tale in a most compelling voice. It’s that voice and Joyce’s use of language to create it that captured my interest from a writer’s point of view. From the first page, I heard Pia’s voice in my head as clearly as if he sat next to me and told me his story. I thought a lot about how she managed to do this, and it made me think back to Charles Portis’s wonderful book. There are some distinct commonalities. Pia speaks in a rather formal way without the use of many contractions or any slang at all. There are occasional Hawaiian words dropped into Pia’s thoughts, and they remind us that Pia did not grow up speaking English.
“Again and again I hit the man who had entrapped me. I did not think of the moment that I realized I was trapped. I did not think about the hard work I’d done for the last four years, or the cruelties that Boki had inflicted on me. I did not think at all. I simply released the anger that had collected. Anger toward Boki, toward Kamaka, and even toward God.”
It doesn’t quite trip off his tongue, and I felt sometimes as if I were listening to some of my old students who learned English as a second language. And yet, it is so subtle that I really had to study the writing to come to this conclusion. It is absolutely consistent through the book and takes you directly to the time and place of this incredible story.
When you read HealingWaters: A Hawaiian Story, you will understand the quote at the beginning of this post. Let me know if you get the connection.
Also, things will be a little different here on my blog for the next three weeks. We will be traveling around Europe, and I will be blogging about that. Of course, I might get a book or two read on the planes, so I might write about that as well. And I have another author interview coming up, so I will try to post that as well. Stop by. Should be some fun stuff here.

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