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Book Review 252: Hawaiian Tales

September 23, 2012 - Harry Eagar
HAWAIIAN TALES, by Allan Beekman. 112 pages. Harlo

Few, if any, writers who set out to pen short stories about Hawaii fail to write one placed in Dec. 7, 1941.

Allan Beekman's offering, “No Place beneath the Rising Sun,” is more interesting than most. It is set in a Japanese language school, and has several main characters: the teachers, including an Imperial Army pilot who had fought in China; and two small children, twins.

It includes a scene of a mob shaking fists and howling for blood at the school as the attack on Pearl Harbor continues. That is not an incident I have seen reported anywhere, but the background of Beekman's little volume of “Hawaiian Tales” indicates it is meant to be authentic.

His AJA wife, Take, was teaching at a Japanese language school on Dec. 7, after which she lost her job. In his introduction, Allan Beekman thanks Take Beekman for her help with that story.

“Hawaiian Tales” was published in 1970, assembling a dozen stories that Beekman had published in periodicals (some obscure) earlier. The stories are set in the 1910-1950 period and reflect, except for one or two, the experience of the Japanese immigrants.

The writing is sometimes stiff – my favorite line is a description of the “dark, green oblanceolate leaves” of a mock orange – and sometimes didactic, and Beekman does not manage to give any real feel for being in Honolulu.

Yet the stories themselves are a cut above the usual run of local color stories, especially ones produced by haole immigrants. Beekman has a deft touch for a ghost story; there are two.

And after long residence in the islands, with a local wife, Beekman avoids the clunkers that usually creep into story collections, even sometimes those written by the born-and-raiseds.


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