Talking Story

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Hawaiian Pidgin, as a language, is raw. It communicates on a visceral, no shibai level, cutting to the heart of the matter with a few quick words in an inflection that can leave you bloody on the floor. There’s a reason my kids don’t worry if I’m scolding in English; they know when I’m really mad the Pidgin comes out.

Significant Moments in da Life of Oriental Faddah and Son, One Hawai‘i Okinawan Journal by Lee A. Tonouchi is a powerful collection of epic poems written in Hawaiian Pidgin that tell the complicated story of multigenerational family relationships. It’s a semi-autobiographical journey from childhood into adulthood that made me laugh out loud, cry, and shake my head at Tonouchi’s very personal experiences that are on many levels so universal.

Tonouchi’s mastery of Pidgin rings true to the ear and heart with an eye for the significant detail that conveys pages of meaning in a few well-chosen phrases. I’ve never met Tonouchi, but I know his voice. I’m sure we hung out at the swings at Kahului Elementary, played shambattle at Summer Fun, and hid behind the oleander bushes at neighborhood backyard kanikapila jam sessions talking story, playing trumps, and swapping Diamond Head strawberry sodas.

Fo’real. His poetry is that good. If you’re a native Pidgin speaker, this book is a treasure.

Oriental Faddah and Son by Lee A. Tonouchi, published by Bess Press is available as a trade paperback directly from the publisher, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble and most stores where books are sold in Hawai‘i.

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