From a major American poet comes a thrilling story in verse, of 19th-century Hawaii. Merwin writes a tale of the perils and glories of a family's flight into the wilds of the island of Kauai, after the government tries to seize and constrain possible victims of leprosy.From a major American poet comes a thrilling story in verse, of 19th-century Hawaii. Merwin writes a tale of the perils and glories of a family's flight into the wilds of the island of Kauai, after the government tries to seize and constrain possible victims of leprosy.Read Less
This is a novel in verse based on the true story of Piilani, who fled to the Kalalau Valley of Kauai with her husband Koolau, who suffered from leprosy and was threatened with exile to Molokai. Rather than be separated from his wife and son, Koolau took his family into the valley and armed himself with a rifle. Koolau gained notoriety when he killed a deputy sheriff and soldiers sent to arrest him.
I have read several accounts of Koolau and Piilani's story, including Jack London's story, "Koolau the Leper" and Piilani's story as told told a newspaperman. It seems that Merwin has thoroughly researched the events and that even though this is work of fiction, he has skillfully woven the facts of the case into his epic poem .
Publishers Weekly, 1998-09-14 Since distinguished poet and translator Merwin (The Lice; The Vixen) moved to Maui almost two decades ago, Hawaiian flora, fauna and history have pervaded his work. His sprawling new novel-in-verse (based on historical facts) unfolds a complicated, suspenseful, true story of natives, colonials, rebels and leprosy in 19th-century Kaua'i, spread over seven chapters of 40 one-page sections. Merwin's cast includes his native Hawaiian heroes, Ko'olau and his wife (later widow), Pi'ilani; their relatives (a crew that's hard to sort out); the authoritative and admirable Judge Kauai; an iconoclastic cleric, George Rowell; Father Valdemar Knudsen, Ko'olau's employer; and a complement of ill-meaning missionaries and colonialists. The plot, when it gets underway, involves resistance to the cruel government policy of forcibly segregrating Hawaiians diagnosed with leprosy. Stricken with "the separating sickness," Ko'olau, Pi'ilani and their son join an Edenic, illegal settlement of lepers in a remote valley. Into Ko'olau's and Pi'ilani's sad adventures, Merwin splices earlier Hawaiian history and legend, from creation myths to the overthrow of the last native rulers. Readers must acclimate themselves to the fluently ongoing, unpunctuated lines and extended sentences in which Merwin casts all his verse. But after a dozen pages, the six- and seven-beat lines seem surprisingly flexible and appropriate. The fast-moving chapters try hard and well to combine the Homeric grandeur of orally transmitted epics, ecological and historical information ("the landed chiefs' sole remaining wealth was the land/ which no one but they could own") and the simpler pleasures of a suspenseful plot. The rapt attention typical of Merwin's short poems mixes comfortably here with the pathos and characterization of a contemporary realist novel: "she stopped and looked back at the valley she had left/ it looked new and shining in an age that never changed/ and farther away than she had ever seen it." (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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