If you scratched Kiana Davenport, beneath her sophisticated, erudite veneer I think you’d find the heartbeat of a no-nonsense Waimanalo titah, a contradiction that makes her work a delight to read.
I just finished Opium Dreams, volume three in her Pacific Stories collection, and like in her previous volumes Cannibal Nights and House of Skin, I found myself slipping into the skins of the narrators. You don’t read her stories so much as breathe them along with her characters. Her eye for the small telling detail that reveals epic amounts of information is exquisite and her deft handling of imagery often makes the prose sing like poetry.
Da titah can write. Period.
I’ve admired Kiana’s work for a long time. Her main characters are often mixed-raced Polynesian women trying to make a life for themselves on the margins of western culture. The women in her stories survive abuse, make poor choices, bow under the burdens of history and culture, and fall to the whims of turn-on-a-dime fate. They also seize life and triumph in ways large and small. They are spectacularly flawed, raw, and real. Kiana has the knack of taking something alien to most western experiences and making it universal.
In Opium Dreams, her stories are about anger and revenge, self-destruction, the inevitable consequences of action vs. inaction, and the grace of forgiveness. In Kiana’s worlds, family is who you chose, and that choice is everything.
Opium Dreams by Kiana Davenport is available as an eBook through Amazon and is her first foray into self-publishing. It’s a steal at 99 cents. Be sure to check out her other titles: House of Skin, Cannibal Nights, Shark Dialogues, House of Many Gods, Song of the Exile, and The Spy Lover. I guarantee you’ll be haunted by these characters’ lives for years.