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Winner Golden Scrolls Novel of the Year 2014!The lives of three generations of three immigrant families from Korea, Japan, and Ireland collide in Hawaii with unexpected results.
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. The Ohana is a riveting retrospective of the social, political, and economic history of Hawaii told through a historical family saga spanning three unforgettable generations. 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. 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. 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. The colliding worlds of the immigrants and their American-born children and grandchildren come to a head when an entire generation protests 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?
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
"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
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— Jackie’s biological father
–who had given her the music box the night before he left for the European
He’d come 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 Litzle Walzer. The
"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.
Ohana family/community-scars and healing
Hawaiian born Carole Whang Schutter prepared for her writing career with a degree in Psychology from the University of Hawaii. But that is only the `paper' that represents her credentials, for as much as studying psychology formally, her interest in the paranormal, living in Honolulu, being an evangelical Christian and motivational speaker, a consuming interest in world religions, a widow, and transplanting to live in Aspen, Colorado have fleshed out her exposure to the point that she is able to reflect on personal experiences and an intimate knowledge of Hawaiian history and as a result she is able to author historically based books (and screenplays) on the influence of the immigrant experience and the miscegenation that has been the 50th states' history as well as the very foundation of the matrix of all of America.
Schutter offers more in her immensely seducing Prologue than many authors achieve in an entire novel. Through a few paragraphs she distills the mystery and the at times agonizing accompaniments that represent a multi-ethnic Asian and American experience from its immigrant beginnings to present day: Mariko Han's secret about the past guards a need for her granddaughter's leukemia, a bone marrow transplant from a compatible donor - a secret that opens windows to an emotionally powerful saga that reveals three generations of Hawaii's multi-ethnic Asian families. That the story is played on the stage set by the Great Depression, WW II, the Vietnam war, the emergence of the Hawaiian mafia and all the changes such events molded the world in which we live. The characters so well drawn by the author represent a family saga spanning mid portion of the 20th century: 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. 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. 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 outcast in the prostitution houses 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. The colliding worlds of the immigrants and their American-born children and grandchildren come to a head when an entire generation protests the Vietnam war and revolt against traditional values. Now the families must put aside their lifetime prejudices and grudges to save a young girl. who ran from famine in Ireland, a death sentence in Korea, and a repressive caste system in Japan, only to encounter poverty, racism, and ultimately the wars that forever changed Hawaii.
Schutter's power as a novelist is unquestioned. Rarely has a writer so adroitly painted a history of the immigrant experience so deftly. More than just a history of Hawaiian responses to world conditions, this book represents the acting out of the human drama that is mirrored in all countries, but especially the melting pot we know as America. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, May 14, hall of fame, top 100 reviewer, Vine Voice
The Best Book I read this year!
The Ohana is a novel that stayed with me long after I finished reading. Captivated from the beginning, I had a hard time putting it down because I was so involved with the characters I couldnt wait to see what was going to happen to them. It really made a lasting impression on me. By Patricia Sklar on Amazon
The Ohana-must read
I recommend this book to all my students at the University of Hawaii and to anyone who has an interest in the islands of Hawaii. History is a human drama of women and men, dreams of passion, strength of character and C.W. Shutter tells it so well.
Dennis M. Ogawa
Department of American Studies
University of Hawaii at Manoa
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