Hawaiian Magic Realism Sep 2, 2007
In Talking to the Dead, Sylvia Watanabe works her own brand of magic realism deftly, evocatively, and effectively. The author is an impressionist of light and color, with a fine-tuned ability to reveal the emotional nuances between characters, and a quiet sense of wonder.
Set in Hawaii, the interrelated stories are humorous, poignant, and mysterious, frequently delineating the wrenching pulls and stresses of family ties; idle infidelities, hurtful memories, unspoken resentments; the ache of irrevocable loss, and the necessity to honor the past. They often turn on the conflict between hard-headed realists and beautiful dreamers, between those who leave behind Hawaii and the old ways, and those who remain and carry them on.
Watanabe's Hawaii is populated with delightful eccentrics like the Laundry Burglar, Minerva, the "Orient's Fred Astaire," Aunty Talking to the Dead, who "understood the wholeness of things," and by ancestral spirits. Talking to the Dead is a work of magic, of subtle, profound feeling, and of loving fidelity to a besieged way of life.