A child is dying. Her life depends on an explosive secret her grandmother has kept from their Ohana (family). As Mary Han wrestles with the toxic revelations, she must finally face the past she fought so hard to forget. A secret that opens windows to an emotionally powerful saga that reveals three generations of Hawaii’s multi-ethnic Asian and Irish families.
Shadowy pasts, buried resentments, and painful memories converge into a melting pot of assumptions and potentially violent confrontations when the immigrants meet in the sugar cane fields of Kohala, Hawaii where a savage, unthinkable crime and a failed strike draw the three families together in an uneasy alliance.
From the young Korean, Han Chaul Roong, who murders the hated Japanese invaders who kidnap his sister and force her into prostitution, to the Japanese aristocrat Kazuko who abandons her life of wealth and privilege to live in poverty with the servant she loves, the Asians came to work the brutal cane fields of Hawaii under Patrick O’Malley, a refugee from the Irish famine who sailed on a coffin ship to the gang-infested streets of Boston and ended up in Hawaii after the bloody Civil War.
Sean Duffy, Patrick’s nephew, climbs out of Boston’s slums to the top of Hawaiian society by way of a loveless marriage to the sister of the woman he loves. Kazuko’s beautiful daughter Mariko lives as a social outcaste in the whorehouses of Honolulu. Chaul Roong’s son, George Han, the ruthless mob boss of the first Korean syndicate, builds an empire while hiding his love for his brother’s wife.
Played out on a stage set by the Great Depression, WW II, the Vietnam war, and the emergence of the Hawaiian mafia, the colliding worlds of the immigrants and their American-born children and grandchildren come to a head when an entire generation protest the Vietnam war and revolt against traditional values.
Now the families must put aside their lifetime prejudices and grudges to save a young girl. Will their Ohanas survive the startling truth behind the lies?
Targeted Age Group:: 20-80
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Originally from Hawaii, I grew up listening to my mother’s fascinating stories about my family and old Hawaii. The Ohana grew out of those stories told to me as a child.
Many of the stories are real and most of the characters a combination of people I know. I wanted to write this book because I love history and wanted to show that no matter what color or race, all immigrants suffered, were prejudiced against and had to overcome extreme odds in order to achieve the American dream. Each generation had their own problems, different, but similar. The Ohana is a tribute to all immigrants and the stories of my family (Ohana), the people I knew and loved who are like family to me, and the fascinating people I met along the way, have a permanent place in my heart and are now made immortal in these stories.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters are people I knew and loved. Most of the characters are a combination of several people including fictional people. They have lived with me for so long, they have become flesh and blood to me. Some of the characters are based on real people I only knew second or third hand. They are now my Ohana, my family of characters that include everyone I’ve ever written about.
Her granddaughter was dying and only Mary could save her.
“Mom, do you know how to contact my birth father and his family?” The tension in Jackie’s tired voice vibrated through the phone like an elastic band stretched to its limit.
Mary squeezed the phone and put a fist to her chest to quiet her fluttering heart. She didn’t want to lie to her daughter, especially during this desperate time. “Maybe,” she replied.
“Maybe? You either know how to reach them or you don’t.” Jackie’s voice grew shrill, like it always did when she was upset.
“I’ll try to reach every relative,” Mary faltered. “Whatever is possible.”
“Well your granddaughter’s life depends on it!” Jackie snapped and hung up the phone.
Trembling, Mariko Han, now called Mary, knelt near the foot of her bed. At her knees, the old black lacquered Korean chest stood with its lid raised. She reached deep inside the old trunk, her hands seeking a yellowed box resting at the bottom.
Now with the box beside her, Mary closed the lid before running her hands across the elaborate mother of pearl design. She sighed with pride, knowing the piece belonged to her. She’d been given it as a gift from her father-in-law, Chaul Roong Han, before he died. Her husband’s family didn’t bother to hide their dismay. That their father’s blood was passed over for a Japanese daughter-in-law was unimaginable. They thought Harabeoji hated the Japanese after what they did to his family in Korea. If Harabeoji had passed on his beloved chest to her husband, or even one of his blood grandchildren, no one would have said a word. Giving Mary the chest was like giving her their Korean heritage.
If only they knew, Mary thought. Living with her in-laws would have been impossible if it weren’t for Harabeoji. They were very close. His memories of the past fascinated her. The brutal treatment of the Koreans by her people, the Japanese. The murder that drove him to Hawaii. The unspeakable crime that forged an uneasy bond of secrecy forced on her father and father-in-law. Harabeoji’s great love affair and the woman he couldn’t forget.
Mary stared at the evidence of her own hidden past, this box within the trunk. She slipped a nail along the top and popped it open. Carefully taking out a figurine of a dancing couple, she placed it on top of the chest.
Even now she could picture herself swirling around the dance floor with the tall, handsome young man in uniform who had given her the music box the night before he left for the European battleground.
Jackie’s biological father came into her life at a time when the world was crumbling around her. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 set in motion cataclysmic change. Thank goodness the Hawaii she knew was never the same.
Mary touched the blond head of the male dancer. Ever since the war, she’d lived a lie. Tears came to her eyes. Her granddaughter Ashley had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. If a match wasn’t found within a year, Ashley would probably die. Time was of the essence.
Kneeling before the trunk, Mary turned the figurine upside down. The gold label was faded and peeling, but still readable. Der Letzte Walzer. The Last Waltz.
“A soldier’s last night,” she whispered to herself as bittersweet memories pierced through the veil of time.
Mary kept her secrets close, locked away in intimate, hidden places. Like the music box. There was so much she never told her children. Even now, after over thirty years, she couldn’t bring herself to reveal that she knew exactly where to find Jackie’s father and his family.
Sighing, she wound the key on the bottom of the music box and placed it on the lid of the polished trunk. The figures took the first steps of their dance as the tinkling tune spun its magic. With each note, Mary slipped further back in time, dancing with the man who once breathed passion into the broken pieces of her life and wove a dream into the fabric of her existence.
The music stopped and Mary returned the music box to its hiding place. She hoped they would find a bone marrow donor within the immediate family soon. Primarily because she wanted her granddaughter to live. But selfishly because she didn’t want to let out the secret of the music box. Too many lives could change. Maybe for the worst.
About the Author:
I was born to write The Ohana. It’s the story of the Hawaii I grew up in-the Hawaii my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others spoke of. I’ve collected these stories half my life and spent the other half writing it down.
I’m third generation Japanese and Korean with a Psychology degree from the University of Hawaii. I’ve had the great fortune to have my first screenplay made into a movie, September Dawn, starring Jon Voight.
A survivor of many health problems, I’m also passionately interested in naturopathic, holistic healing through herbs and everything God provided on this planet.
Native Americans say, “Walk a mile in my moccasins and you will see why I do what I do.” When you finally put down “The Ohana,” you will understand more about the diverse cultures that make up Hawaii and understand the challenges all immigrants faced and why they did what they did.
I hope my stories resonate in the hearts of everyone who reads my books. And although I no longer live in Hawaii, the Islands of Heaven lives in my heart.
Mahalo, (Thank you) and Aloha for reading my stories.
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