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Shark Dialogues

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“Compares with Toni Morrison.”— Glamour
Beginning with the fateful meeting of a nineteenth-century Yankee sailor and the runaway daughter of a Tahitian chief, and sweeping over a century and a half of passionate, turbulent Hawaiian history, Shark Dialogues takes its place as the first novel to do justice to the rich heritage and cruel conflicts of the beautiful and beleaguered islands and their people. Surreal, provocative, erotic, magical, meaningful, and supremely wise, it is a tale of islanders and invaders, of victors and victims, of queens and whores, of lepers and healers. And at its center are Pono, the magnificent pure-blooded matriarch and seer, and her four mixed-blood granddaughters seeking to come to terms with the contradictions of their ancestries and the hungers of their hearts. Their loves, their hates, the bonds joining them, and the furies possessing them are interwoven with ancient legends and lore of the islands whose past offers their salvation and whose future is their fate. Kiana Davenport has written a major contribution to the literature of the Pacific Rim—a great reading experience both brilliantly contemporary in its form and timeless in its illumination.
“A giant, image-fevered, luxuriant saga of a Hawaiian family… powerful, memorable, intoxicating.”— Kirkus Reviews
“Complex, resonant… handles the sweep of history and the nuance of the personal equally well… Sensuous.”— San Francisco Chronicle

512 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1994

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About the author

Kiana Davenport

13 books221 followers
KIANA DAVENPORT is descended from a full-blooded Native Hawaiian mother, and a Caucasian father from Talladega, Alabama. Her father, Braxton Bragg Davenport, was a sailor in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Pearl Harbor, when he fell in love with her mother, Emma Kealoha Awaawa Kanoho Houghtailing. On her mother's side, Kiana traces her ancestry back to the first Polynesian settlers to the Hawaiian Islands who arrived almost two thousand years ago from Tahiti and the Tuamotu's. On her father's side, she traces her ancestry to John Davenport, the puritan clergyman who co-founded the American colony of New Haven, Connecticut in 1638.

Kiana is the author of the internationally best-selling novels, SHARK DIALOGUES, SONG OF THE EXILE, HOUSE OF MANY GODS, THE SPY LOVER, and most recently, THE SOUL AJAR, now available in paperback and on Kindle

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5 stars
1,158 (42%)
4 stars
923 (33%)
3 stars
459 (16%)
2 stars
139 (5%)
1 star
58 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 360 reviews
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,945 followers
October 18, 2010
This book utterly defies categorization. It begins with a brief introduction of four girl cousins winging their way back to Pono's coffee farm in the 1990s. Then it jumps back in time and becomes historical fiction with a smattering of magical realism. Hawaii's sad and painful past is covered, with special emphasis on the way lepers were treated through the decades. But it's also a family saga following the generations of women in Pono's family, beginning with the unlikely pairing of a Tahitian princess and a one-eyed white sailor in the 1830s.

Pono the dream-teller is the character holding together the entire story. She was born with mystical powers. Many people fear her the way they would a kahuna. Her life is bound by myth, legend, magic, and ancient herbal cures. Tall, fierce, and exquisitely beautiful, she has endured a life of rejection and alienation. Even her own family abandoned her as a child because they feared her strange powers. She finds solace in the sea, communing with mano 'aumakua, her shark ancestors. As she swims the depths with them she becomes part shark, growing the snout and the sandpaper-like skin. When she leaves the water she becomes fully human again.

The second half of the book abandons history and returns to the 1990s. The four girl cousins have been summoned back to the Big Island by their grandmother Pono. She shares with them the secrets she should have told them many years ago when they spent their girlhood summers with her. The truth entirely alters their view of the family and their place in it. In this second half there's also a touch of romance, some thriller moments, and a strong condemnation of colonialism the world over. This portion of the book was less enjoyable reading than the first half, but the writing is masterful throughout. The scope of the novel and depth of feeling warrants a five-star rating, regardless of the disparity between the first and second halves.

Profile Image for Lori Ann.
292 reviews4 followers
January 2, 2015
Count me as one Haole Wahine who really enjoyed the lessons this book had to offer. It spanned Hawaiian history from the 1800s to present day through the eyes of several generations of strong women from one family. I've been to Hawaii a handful of times, and this book gave me perspective on why native islanders are not always quite so happy to welcome new residents from the mainland. (I'd heard about this from a friend who lived there, but lacked the background to understand the history behind it.) It also gave me an understanding of Hawaiian folklore, and the meaning Hawaiians give to sharks, their land, their waters, their ancestors, the role of a kahuna, and more. I even picked up quite a few words of Hawaiian. My whole perspective on Hawaii has changed now that I have such a better grasp of the history; I think I will enjoy future visits so much more from having this more through understanding of native Hawaiian culture.

This book does take some commitment - it's is not a beach read. There were many times when it struck me more as a James Michener "eat your vegetables" kind of slog. And the writing style leaves something to be desired. In my opinion, it could have done with a stronger edit. It also took me quite a while to read it. I usually try to polish off several books that relate to the place I am visiting during one trip. Despite reading quite a bit during a 10-day trip to Hawaii, I got back on the plane only 30-40% of the way through the book, and then it took me another 3 weeks to finish it. But I do feel my time was well spent here.
Profile Image for Tara Chevrestt.
Author 27 books295 followers
December 25, 2010
The first half of this novel is wonderful! I could not get enough of it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the Tahitian runaway bride and the one eyed whaler and their life in pioneer Hawaii and their children. I learned so much about Hawaii history. Davenport has exceptional talent throwing in historical facts and details without losing the magic of an engrossing storyline. I was overtaken with emotion many times.

A quarter thru the book, Pono is introduced and she proves to be a character the reader will both love and hate. I found her "becoming a shark" a little strange and unbelievable and her behavior such as biting her daughter's face extremely repulsive, but her character is so strong and brave, I was bewitched by her. The love she shares with Duke is so strong and powerful, a love that can truly endure all things.

However, the story started losing me when it began focusing on Rachel, Ming, Vanya, and Jess, Pono's granddaughters. I found them dull and unlikeable with all their drug and sex addictions and basically, I found myself scanning thru the last half of the book to see what became of Pono and Duke.
Profile Image for Sara.
680 reviews13 followers
August 14, 2010
A great first novel about Hawaii, with specific political views.

I've seen one criticism I agree strongly with: one, the need for an editor - the copy shown in the picture looks like a galley, there are rampant spelling mistakes and run on sentences. A few times, characters travel the same routes and the drive is described almost identically twice. Someone wrote that this book could have been 100 or 150 pages shorter and would have been much "tighter" and I agree.

That said, it's a great adventure, women's story (not chick lit), and it gives some real insight into Hawaii. The auther has some very good literary instincts, wrapping around the marks Agent Orange left on the skin of one generation to those that leprosy left on the prior.

It made me want to read other Hawaiian authors for other views. This is a very readable, multi-generational story made special by the unique historical and cultural viewpoint.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
February 8, 2011
I liked the first 70ish pages about the matriarch Kelonikoa, the daughter of a Tahitian chief. The writing was colorful and vibrant. Hawaiian history and geogarphy were wonderfully described.

But now, Pono, Kelonikoa's great granddaughter, has come on stage. The writing is just too dramatic, too graphic - with slaughter and rape and magical realism that is simply too weird. I am fighting my desire to just dump this book. I REALLY am not enjoying myself. Usch, do I have to continue with this....... I am on page 126 of 492. There is no map, and you have to constantly look up the Hawaiian words in the glossary at the back.

I am going to bed. I will do anything but read this book.

I forgot to mention, neither is there any humor. After sleeping on it, I have decided NOT to continue. Parts were well written, so I am giving it two stars. Frankly, maybe the book is OK, but it just isn't my cup of tea. I feel like I am a quitter, but I just don't want to read this!!!!!!!
Profile Image for Christie Bane.
1,084 reviews11 followers
February 5, 2018
Oh my God, this book was SO GOOD!

I don't really even know where to start. I suppose I will start with the simple fact that Kiana Davenport is a beautiful writer. I don't know how it's possible for anyone to produce almost 500 pages of such terribly beautiful writing. I say "terribly beautiful" because some of the things she writes about are, truly, terrible. I don't want to give away too much of the story, but take my word for it, if you read this book you will have images burned into your brain that I don't think you will forget any time soon, or maybe ever.

I have been to Hawaii one time in my life, had never had any interest in going before then, and fell in love with it immediately. That's not an abnormal reaction to Hawaii. But part of falling in love with it is knowing that I could never possess it, even if I ever had enough money to live there. Hawaii belongs to its people, and the United States kind of screwed them, or else handed them the tools to screw themselves, you could argue either way. I know better than to dream of belonging in Hawaii. But what I do want is to understand it. I don't care about resorts or tourist attractions; I care about the native-blooded (or mixed, because it seems like almost everyone now is mixed) people who live in the small towns outside of the tourist areas. I want to know what they think about people like me who come and visit. This author is very good at showing exactly that.

This book is an epic story of four generations of people, starting with a Dutch trader and a Tahitian princess. The current generation, four girls who have all lost their mothers, keep returning to their grandmother's coffee plantation from all the places in the world they have scattered. Their grandmother, Pono, is a force of nature. She has done a lot of fantastic things in her life, and seems to be half myth and half reality. I could never really figure out which was which with her, but part of the charm of the book was that I really didn't want to; she was a perfect character as is.

This book should be savored one sentence at a time, like drinking an exquisite glass of wine in small sips. I read the first 100 pages that way and then chugged the rest down almost in one sitting on my day off from teaching class. I couldn't resist. After doing that, I feel like I was hit by a train. That's how powerful the writing is!
Profile Image for Nancy.
358 reviews34 followers
July 31, 2019
What kind of legacy will I leave behind? I’m not convinced it will be much beyond my children. DNA testing, Ancestry and other genealogical sites are a great help in archiving family trees, photos and stories but I don’t feel we can capture the intimate thoughts and memories.

Shark Dialogues is a gorgeous book about the power of our descendants. The story revolves around Pono - the oldest matriarch of a Hawaiian family whose legacy goes back generations. She has been hesitant to reveal all the family stories. Without divulging too much, she has lost her daughters both in life and death for various reasons. As she feels her own mortality closing in, she gathers her granddaughters with the intention of finally filling in those blanks. All of the family has been adrift and struggling for lack of this anchor and identity. Has she held back because of sheer survival, her sense of shame, someone else’s privacy?

There is an element of what some would call magical realism, but I would prefer to call it myth. Myth that is part of what it means to identify as Hawaiian. My guess is the author was using her novel as a vehicle for criticism of American colonialism in Hawaii, the racist attitudes about Polynesians, disrespect of their traditions, the introduction of disease and tragic handling of leprosy patients for lack of a treatment, stolen lands and anthropogenic abuse of fragile ecosystems. All the while Davenport underscores history in her writing as well as touching on the ravages of the Vietnam war on service members, the toxicity of Agent Orange, gender bias and stereotyping. Obviously a character driven novel, the writing is lush and complex. The use of Hawaiian/Chinese words and pidgin English did not distract me. It’s spare enough if you are reading for context you shouldn’t need to look much up. There’s enough plot to keep you turning pages.

I’m thrilled for Ms Davenport that ABC has optioned the rights to develop this book into a series with Viola Davis as director. I look forward to what they produce and hope they do it justice, as this work is quite timeless.

“Most people sought a blindingly passionate, transcending love, the one impossible and tragic. At the same time they wanted a less perfect, more prosaic love, one that got them through the day-to-day. She brooded over this, wondering if it was age, or just fatigue that took away large appetites, left us desiring a life predictable and kind. Was wanting less the first step down the road to dying, or to wisdom?”

*Side note - the length of time it took me to read this is no reflection on the book. I was mounting a show and into the run. The writing was just so good, I couldn't concentrate and reflect on it while my head was buried elsewhere... Great book.
Profile Image for Pamela.
591 reviews29 followers
April 17, 2011
I read Shark Dialogues while in Hawaii, and it made me enjoy the book more than I would have. The language strays into over-adjectival cheesiness, especially whenever anyone admires nature or has sex. And although I'm sympathetic to the claims of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, it really bums me out to read a novel that's openly sympathetic to terrorism. Sorry, Davenport, but I just can't get down with that.

Anyway, the real reason to read this book is for the first half, when Davenport skillfully (not sure how accurately, but who cares?) narrates the settling and annexation of Hawaii. It's already an unbelievable, enraging, and too-little-told story, and Davenport makes the history come to life in vivid detail.

However, by the time we zero in on Pono's granddaughters and their political and sexual passions, it's time to put down the book. The vibrancy of Davenport's earlier writing leaches away to the strident disapproval of men, hotels, the American mainland, capitalism. I'm not necessarily against anything Davenport has to say on the subject, but I just wish she were more reasonable in her arguments.
Profile Image for Wanda.
12 reviews
July 23, 2008
This story is so amazing! I loved the integration of the history of Hawai'i into the matriarchal genealogy of the main character, Pono. The first half of the book was so engrossing I read it in one day! Pono's stories and history were beautiful and powerful. But the second half sort of lost me. The cousins' stories were harder to keep track of, in terms of who was the daughter of whom. And the language got a little repetitive. I love reading about Hawai'i's rich and sad history, about mixed women, about powerful women.
Profile Image for A.
25 reviews
April 21, 2007
my fave book on hawaii, davenport's a genius. strong women, politics, that dirty/beautiful hawaii thing and of course sex.
1,501 reviews2 followers
September 9, 2015
Hawaii + magical realism. I generally enjoyed the storyline but the quality of writing is taxing. An editor would have made a huge difference.
Profile Image for Serena.. Sery-ously?.
1,093 reviews178 followers
July 28, 2019
Il problema ENORME del libro sono i personaggi: non si riesce ad entrare in sintonia con nessuno di loro (se escludiamo il povero Duke, dai), non si prova empatia e soprattutto non mi è venuto da fare il tifo per nessuno di loro, anzi! Li avrei condannati tutti ad un destino infelice.
Peccato, perché l'ambientazione e la storia meritano tantissimo, mi hanno trasmesso tanta curiosità e - strano! - voglia di visitare quei posti magnifici; le prime duecento pagine poi sono bellissime, me le sono divorate in un baleno!
Poi arriva Pono la stronza, e tutta la magia sfuma via :(
Profile Image for Annapurna.
129 reviews2 followers
June 24, 2021
this book is intense and raw and powerful and just gets under your skin and into your blood, it’s almost a mix of the overstory and the house of the spirits but with a lot of detailed and well researched Hawaiian history and culture — I literally have dreams about the book and these characters
absolutely painful and i loved it
Profile Image for Laurie Hanan.
Author 11 books161 followers
May 25, 2013
If ever a book deserved more than five stars, it is this one. Each paragraph flows like a poem, and I found myself reading the same words again and again, trying to absorb all the ideas contained in them. This is not a fast read, by any means, but well worth taking the time to read it well.

The lines between reality and Hawaiian myth blur as this expansive saga follows seven generations of a family in Hawai'i. The often-dark, angry tale begins as "Pono's girls" are summoned to the Big Island by their 84-year-old grandmother. The four mixed-race cousins, who have scattered across the globe, are united only by memories of summers shared in the home of the fearsome Pono. Now they return to the run-down coffee plantation once again to face the six-foot-tall kahuna with flowing gray hair, who uses a cane made from a human spine and possesses the power to kill with just a look. The reader is then taken back to 1834, as a shipwrecked, one-eyed whaler turned cannibal falls in love with a runaway Tahitian princess. The story then centers around their great-granddaughter, Pono, who displays unusual powers from birth. At sixteen, Pono falls in love with Duke, a pure Hawaiian surfer. Duke contracts leprosy and the two young lovers go into hiding, living like animals in the wild jungles as they are pursued by bounty hunters. Duke is finally captured and imprisoned in the leper colony at Kalaupapa, on the Island of Molokai. The love story between Duke and Pono spans more than sixty years and has to be one of the most extraordinary, most haunting, tales of all time. The reader is brought to the present, as Pono's granddaughters wrestle with the secrets of their family's past. They finally learn of their grandfather, who--ashamed of his leprosy--had made Pono vow not to tell anyone of his existence.

This story carries an underlying theme of the racial tension that still simmers just beneath the surface in modern day in Hawai'i. It revolves around the Hawaiian matriarch who, though she despises foreigners, is actually of mixed race herself, granddaughter of an American and a Tahitian. Pono's daughters marry non-Hawaiians and produce a mixed bag of grandchildren, four of whom become the other central characters in the story. As a non-Hawaiian raised in Hawai'i, these islands are the only home I know. I have always counted the Hawaiian people as my own. And yet, they will never count me as one of them. I have spent my life studying Hawaiian history, doing my best to understand and sympathize with the anger at the injustices inflicted on the Hawaiians by foreigners--Americans in particular. This book does a good job of shedding light on the political complexities, the rage and frustration that still drive Hawaiian activists today.
Profile Image for Becky.
541 reviews16 followers
February 8, 2008
this book is reviewed on the cover by isabel allende, and it reminded me a lot of isabel allende books. it spanned over several generations of strong women often being oppressed by men all set to a historical and political background, written in a style of magical realism. however, what made this book especially interesting to me was that the historical and political background was that of hawaii. i realized that i really haven't thought much about the history of hawaii and how it came to be a part of the united states. it really is a very sad history, i suppose not much different than how the rest of the united states came to be the united states, but it was still really interesting to learn about. there was so much i never knew much about or just never thought about: the imperialism, the slave like conditions native hawaiians faced on pineapple, coffee, and sugar plantations, leprosy epidemics, the struggle for hawaiian independence, the way the bombing of pearl harbor affected non-military hawaiians, the commonality of the struggle of island nations, the international nature of hawaii (with influence from the us, japan, the philippines, polynesia, etc.), and so many other topics. this book really made me want to learn more about modern day hawaii. it was also really interesting to read this book while in costa rica. the tone of the book was definitely against the white tourists who come and against the foreigners who come and buy up land and build developments that destroy the natural habitat and take away land from the locals, which is what seems to be happening a lot in costa rica. as i was reading the book, i was overhearing conversations from people from the united states discussing the beach front costa rican property they had purchased to build a resort, or to start a rafting business. it was just an interesting parallel that made me feel awful for going to costa rica as a white tourist who didn't know the language or anything about the history or culture of costa rica. so this book definitely inspired a lot of thought in me and i'd recommend it for that reason. sometimes the plot and characters seemed a bit forced in order to get across the historical and political message, but it didn't bother me because i was so interested in the message.

sorry if the review is long and boring, but i just don't want to forget everything i was thinking as i read this book.
Profile Image for Liz.
600 reviews504 followers
January 12, 2018
First things first - I read it because a friend needs help with a paper on this book and I needed to know the details to be able to help. I would have never picked this book up otherwise.

The writing is...difficult. I must admit, I read George R.R. Martin's doorstoppers faster than this one. It is overly descriptive, particularly when it comes to sex, and particularly when descriptions aren't truly needed. It is overly detailed, the author frequently digresses and focusses, I think, on all the wrong things. In the end, the writing left me with a pounding head and immensely annoyed.

There is no plot per se because the book tells the story of a family from the nineteenth century on and into the 90's focussing particularly on the character of Pono, who is apparently capable of magic and has some uber-creepy habits and unhealthy behaviours. But the problem is - neither is there any real character development in the book. Because when I thought it would finally occur the author killed several characters off and everything went back to the same old. Maybe that is some modern or postmodern statement, to me it seemed merely unnecessary.

Lastly, what it is essentially about is Hawaii. Its annexation and the fight of the natives to save their land. It directs the attention of the reader to all the important topics like economy, politics, social constructs and the overall term - exploitation of the natives by...heh, who do you think? I think I don't need to say it. This is great, don't get me wrong. I didn't know about most of it, at least not that it had happened in Hawaii as well, but I guess the colonisers weren't really creative in their cruelty, were they?! So kudos for that.
But frankly, I could have read it in a non-fiction book, would have liked to actually get a detailed non-fiction book instead of this one, and come to the same conclusions.

Recommended if you are interested in Hawaii and its history.
Profile Image for konami.
114 reviews3 followers
September 2, 2015
It was really hard to put this book down once I became engrossed in the description and lives of these powerful women. With the epic backdrop of Pono, Duke, their daughters, and granddaughters, the history of Hawaii is woven into the story-line allowing the reader to get a firsthand glimpse of a paradise lost to commercialism and exploitation of its' native peoples throughout the generations. While the first half of the book is very picturesque and lyrical, the final portion of the book began to drag and take another path. I more so enjoyed reading the history behind each woman and how they arrived in present day with Pono as the powerful matriarch at the helm and trying to instill her girls birthright to their land and history. There's mystery, magic, darkness, and lessons on forgiving all with a Polynesian touch. I found this novel to be both colorful and poignant where characters are brought to life with such creativity and expressive writing.
Profile Image for Lori.
678 reviews74 followers
March 6, 2016
I'm surprised that I'm only listing this book now on GR, because even tho I read it, oh, 20 years ago? it's obviously left it's mark. Now that's a 5 star book. As a matter of fact, I think I'll go restructure my ratings. It's time that tells me when a book is 5-stars, when I still am nostalgic so many years later about this reading experience.

Because this book had everything - deep emotional impact, bitterness at the machine of injustice, Hawaiian history, native politics, and well developed characters that I cared deeply about. It's written by a native. Yeah, I felt, learned, and was provoked into further thought.
Profile Image for Sarah Fountain.
21 reviews29 followers
October 6, 2017
If you asked me half way through the book, it would have gotten five stars and a spot on my top ten favorite books ever. Davenport weaves in and out of the personal narrative of the women she writes about and centuries of Hawaiian history. This book is one of the few historical fiction novels where the "historical" element is more than just a backdrop.

The second half fell a little flat. The story of Pono's four granddaughters followed clearly and was still incredibly powerful, but I thought some of the connections Davenport drew were a little...I don't know, easy? Like the fact that Vanya, the woman that hates white people more than anything, ends up with a charismatic Australian man that "puts up" with her "fiery nature" is a little bogus. It fits too neatly into the idea that men are rational and stable characters and even the strongest women are emotionally flawed.

I like to think that the relationship between Vanya, her Australian lover, and Duke are more complex than just "I never knew my Grandfather and this missing male figure has created a gaping hole in my life, and the only way I can let this white man into my life is by seeing the same disease in both of them." I'm not a fan of the idea that a "dead" grandfather could destroy two generations of seemingly strong women. I get that Pono was neglectful, and like to think that the girls' obsession with Duke was more a reflection on themselves than on a missing father figure, but Davenport never really arrived at that conclusion.

On a positive note, I don't think I have ever loved a character more than I loved Run Run. The passages where she defended the girls made me actually smile, and I love the fact that her dialogue was consistently in pidgin. That, combined with Davenport's descriptions of Hawaii, probably saved the second half of the book, and even made me question whether or not everyone has their element of nature that they connect with more than others. Few would object to the idea that Hawaii is a magical place, but she really brought the islands and ocean to life.
Profile Image for Penny.
35 reviews
February 5, 2021
I don't generally read other reviews but in this case I'm glad I did. In reading the reviews, I wanted to pinpoint why this book spoke to me, in spite of the detailed descriptions and lyrical, lengthy writing style. Times seem more necessary to hear the opinions of others, even if the opinions are about a book written almost ten years ago. This wasn't my intention when I picked the book up. I honestly wanted to escape from current events with something describing the past lives of island women in a mythical manner.

Although I was pulled into reading it; it took me longer than I thought it would. This may be because I didn't want it to end. (Here's a spoiler, the basic theme hasn't ended in real time. The truth behind these events is still happening.) If you're not exposed to the sensuous feelings of island life; historically, culturally or physically, then perhaps that's why the book didn't resonate with some as much as others. It obviously felt necessary to the author. It worked for me.

The universal idea of how women struggle internally to define themselves based on the impressions of others was vividly clear. The granddaughters living fully, trying to accept who they are throughout their lives; connecting to their pasts to define themselves, made for quite a "painful" read. I think, however, everyone should face our own past, present and future with Pono (pono). Mahalo Kiana Davenport for sharing this story.
Profile Image for Jonathan Spencer.
178 reviews31 followers
August 3, 2023
I usually only give five stars to books that I immediately want to reread, but four did not feel sufficient. This immersive book helped this haole understand the deep connection among the land, family, language, and culture in Hawai'i. If you are new to these concepts, like I was, I suggest reading Herb Kane's excellent books Pele or Ancient Hawaii, both of which are short and fun to read.
195 reviews
October 17, 2022
This book reads like both a legend and modern book. It explores what it means to be human from a Hawaiian background. The beginning of the book and its quick history of colonialism in Hawaii reminded me a lot of James Michener, but the examination of the human implications of this history were what made the book stand out.
Profile Image for Aurora Shele.
342 reviews40 followers
March 15, 2020
This book took me ages to finish. Some parts were really interesting. Others hard to get to. But overall a nice story about generations in Hawaii.
Profile Image for Melissa Fondakowski.
Author 5 books8 followers
January 30, 2023
A sweeping generational epic

Weaving together personal history, historical fact, and gripping fictional storytelling Davenport delivers a first rate epic of the Native Hawaiian experience. This is a story of not only what happens to a land, but also to its people - in body heart and mind - when they, and their culture are violently colonized, dispersed, and killed.
Profile Image for Valerie Brett.
449 reviews77 followers
January 12, 2021
HUGE SIGH. I wanted to like this book SO MUCH! There is a dearth of acclaimed literary fiction from Hawaii. I was so excited for this book (yes, I know it’s an older book, but I’d never gotten around to it). Alas, 60% through and I just can’t finish it. I even gave up for a few days, then tried again, and just: No.

STYLE: The writing is super inconsistent: at times verbose and makes little sense, then at times dry and textbook like (specifically when interspersing Hawaii history it was like she literally copy/pasted from a history book in the middle of literary fiction paragraphs). Then randomly, I guess to emphasize the emotional impact of a scene, out of nowhere there would be a run-on sentence spanning two pages. It wasn’t a pleasure to read.

SUBSTANCE: The story seems to not exactly know who it’s main characters are—sometimes it works to have many characters but here it just didn’t for me. Everyone sucks and you can’t root for anyone. And the cousins are supposedly so close but there isn’t really any evidence of it; it’s not a believable claim, although it’s made many times. Speaking of which, the repetition is partly why I just couldn’t finish the book. We get to hear three separate times that a guy had pearls implanted into his dick (*fOr HeR pLeAsUrE*). There is a section of the book that is pure erotica, which is great if you picked up an erotica book. The beginning of the book is extremely early nineties “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” vibes, then it’s pure historical fiction, then it’s suddenly erotica, all with a tiny bit of magical realism thrown in, and it kind of switches back and forth in a way that just doesn’t work. We are told a million times how people are instead of shown. The plot at about 60% just completely grinds to a halt. Also there’s lots of weird blood quota rhetorical violence that I thought was a character choice but now I think is Davenport’s deal based on her author bio?

I just cannot with this book. What a disappointment! Is it so popular because of when it came out? Because people are desperate for fiction by/about Hawaiians? Someone please explain!
Profile Image for Amy.
264 reviews19 followers
January 25, 2015
Perfect book to read before and after my trip to Oahu, HI.

Publisher's Weekly describes the plot better than I could:

A sprawling but compelling first novel, Davenport's gargantuan family epic centers on the awe-inspiring Hawaiian matriarch Pono, a prophet gifted with magic powers, and her four estranged, mixed-marriage granddaughters. The book begins in 1834 with Pono's forebears, a shipwrecked Yankee sailor who had resorted to cannibalism, and a runaway Tahitian princess, and covers large chunks of Hawaiian history before ending up on a present-day island coffee plantation. Using flashbacks and detours, the novel chronicles how granddaughters Ming, Vanya, Rachel and Jess reclaim their heritage and achieve reconciliations with Pono, who terrifies them--she can metamorphose into a sea creature and live for days in the ocean--but commands their love and respect. Pono periodically goes on unexplained voyages to visit the girls' grandfather, Duke, a leper deeply ashamed of his putrefying limbs. A digression describes the history of the disease and treatment of its victims. Other sections evoke life on a 19th-century whaler, and offer a history of Hawaii's labor-union movement, the story of a drug-addicted Vietnam vet and cameo appearances of such real-life figures as Queen Lil'uokalani and F.D.R. Between wars, plagues, uprisings and earthquakes the book has a surfeit of events, but for the most part Davenport juggles the elements admirably as she moves from Hawaiian rain forests to downtown Manhattan, slipping easily from the fantastic to the actual. Breathtaking images studded throughout the densely poetic descriptive passages more than compensate for the occasional clumsy effort at stream-of-consciousness writing.

Profile Image for Nicholas Perez.
440 reviews96 followers
October 10, 2019
A long and lengthy novel about the women of one Hawaiian family experiencing trauma, lost, love, and separation. Shark Dialogues tackles a ton of issues including colonialism, racism, colorism, women's power and agency, war, disease, and the broken family. It is a solid story about how the struggle to live and maintain the legacy of one's family can cause upheaval within the family itself. We can see small amounts of this in the beginning with Kelonikoa and her daughters; their struggle to maintain both their family and land and keep Queen Liliʻuokalani in power comes at a cost that eventually snowballs into Pono and her daughters and granddaughters. A piece of Pono is in each of her daughters and granddaughters. She sees herself shattered and scattered along them and feels both proud and repulsed by them.

The ultimate message of this story is that family love-particularly maternal love-is what can keep a person together and define who they are. This is especially pertinent given that the story is through the eyes of native Hawaiians and their descendants and their struggle to keep the islands from being destroyed by industry and government. Family is not just a material thing, it is something that goes one.

Although this story was long, its conclusion, albeit somewhat ambiguous, is worth it and appropriate. However, I believe that the author could've gotten to the climax and conclusion quicker. Vanya was a great character, possibly the best character. I did not always agree with her actions and thoughts but she still very humanized. Nonetheless, her story which is apart of the climax and ending could've wrapped up sooner.

Overall, an amazing story.
Profile Image for Arapahoe Libraries.
353 reviews58 followers
July 7, 2009
While Hawaii carries an all encompassing viewpoint, Shark Dialogues, by Kiana Davenportm is a debut novel that is spellbinding in its imagery and ancient myths. It is a stunningly sensual and epic novel of a Polynesian Hawaiian family that centers on the awe-inspiring matriarch, Pono, a prophet gifted with magic powers and her four estranged, mixed-marriage granddaughters. I think Pono is one of the most powerful and magical characters in modern day fiction. Ms. Davenport manages to maneuver the plot from Hawaiian rain forests to downtown Manhattan, and creates a cast of characters too powerful to describe. I have recommended this book multiple times and will continue to sing it's praises.

These two gigantic and enchanting books may help you feel and experience Hawaii as never before, and will enrapture you in the gorgeous and sensual island paradise. Enjoy these marvelous books about one of our most beautiful states.

You might also enjoy the 1966 movie, Hawaii, starring Julie Andrews, Max von Sydow and Richard Harris.
Profile Image for Ami.
Author 4 books11 followers
January 22, 2023
I first read this one a few years ago for book club, and the biggest thing I remembered about it is that it made me want to go to Hawaii. The descriptions of the ocean views and paradise-like setting of the jungles, even in some not great times for the characters, were enough to make me want a vacation.

This last week, I did go on vacation. I spent a week on Maui, so I thought it would be appropriate to read this one again to set the tone. I read it on the (really long) plane ride.

There are some very dark parts to this story, as in any historical epic. It is a beautiful, yet tragic, saga that ties generations of a family together. The magical realism used by the author incorporates Hawaiian political history with the rich culture of ancient Hawaiian beliefs. I enjoyed the use of Hawaiian language, though I had to flip the glossery quite often to translate it. This is one I like enough to own.
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