New releases by Hawaii authors

"Halfway to Asia -- A Hawaii-Pacific Novel"
by John Griffin (XLibris, $18.69)

"Pacific Legacy -- Image and Memory From World War II in the Pacific"
by Rex Allen Smith and Gerald A. Meehl (Abbeville, $65)

Reviewed by Burl Burlingame

"Halfway to Asia -- A Hawaii-Pacific Novel"
Griffin, an ex-Honolulu Advertiser columnist who also "flew typhoons" (as it claims on the back cover), has written the first treatment of a novel that will span generations of modern Hawaii history. It's not a real novel -- it's underfed and sketchy and the characters need to put on some psychic weight -- so it's one of those self-published instant-books that will be printed and shipped to you via the Internet.

The central character turns into vapor on the page, a kind of journalist-spy-academic with an eye for the ladies, but not in any kind of fun way. He's just sort of not-there. You'd have more luck nailing Jell-O to a tree than analyzing his character, but he does manage to make whoopie fairly often.

But not often enough, for the characters here speak in dull, flat exposition, like actors in a porno movie. They're not human beings at all, but position papers, and most are cultural stereotypes (albeit stereotypes only people in Hawaii will recognize). Generally, there is no dialogue, only a dialectic, an endless churning of political and sexual tension between overbearing, mouthy people.

Here's an example of give-and-take -- and yes, it's pillow-talk:

"I've read about those people suppressing democracy in the name of fighting communism. I thought you had better instincts, but I should have known."

"My instincts are to do interesting and useful things, and I'm not opposed to helping the country. And the people I've met are all for democracy."

Zzzzzz. Where's Griffin's editor? His literary problems are typical first-draft mistakes for a novelist. Dramatic gaffes aside, Griffin is a natural storyteller, and he certainly has a story to tell here. In many ways, it picks up where James Michener's "Hawaii" petered out, in the Commie-under-the-bed hysterics of postwar Hawaii and the smokey backroom politicking that changed the islands. Griffin doesn't seem to have forgotten anything about that period, and the descriptions of deal-making and back-stabbing ring true -- as does the naivete of some of the political wannabes.

"Halfway to Asia" doesn't arc as much that it simply ends, and it's clearly the first shot at what could be a whole series of novelettes bringing us up to the present day. No one's really done this (Richard Hoyt's "Vivienne," about the late '60s in Hawaii, comes to mind as a possible exception). All Griffin needs is a rewrite guy.

"Pacific Legacy -- Image and Memory From World War II in the Pacific"
This extraordinarily handsome volume covers the fading memories and artifacts from America's conflict with Japan in the Central Pacific.

The events are simply and movingly described, and a well-chosen bank of historic photos are contrasted with current pictures of rusting debris, creeping jungle and fading veterans. This dramatic battleground is largely a MacArthur/Nimitz arena, and the book largely ignores the Aleutian, Chinese and Southeast Asia theaters.

Meehl actually began preparation for the book nearly three decades ago, when he covered the Pacific as a scientist.

The authors will be signing copies of the book from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 15 and 16 at the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center. Editor Walton Rawls and designer Jim Wageman will be there, too, and their work on this keepsake is splendid.

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