‘Communal Voice’ Adds Life To Stories

Anyone who has spent time enough in Hawaii to pick up the lilt of the local language should enjoy the stories of Kathleen Tyau.

Tyau, a native of Oahu who has lived on the mainland since coming to Portland for college in 1966, has just published her first book, “A Little Too Much is Enough.”

And when she reads from it on Wednesday at Auntie’s Bookstore, you might hear her read a passage such as this:

“‘Aay, no make li’ dat,” shouts Alfred. “No make li’ dat, I told you. Aay, no throw the mango. You like beef or what? You like I break your face?”’

Or: “Poi is very hard head. Sticks to your hands, sticks to your mouth, hard to wash off. But taste real ono with kalua pig and lomi lomi salmon. All the salty food.”

Or even: “Annabel is hapa haole - half Chinese, half Irish. It’s the Irish, the haole blood, that makes her hapa. Her hair is thick and long, the color of koa wood, dark brown with streaks of red. Her eyelashes curl like waves, and her eyelids fold back into tiny Venetian blinds even without the help of Scotch tape. Her skin looks like a vanilla ice cream cone licked smooth.”

But even if you aren’t familiar with the pidgin English spoken throughout the Hawaiian Islands, Tyau’s book should prove intriguing. It is a series of loosely linked vignettes that portray the kind of family life she enjoyed growing up on Oahu in the era following World War II, through statehood in 1959 and on into the ‘60s.

“I decided to create a family that wasn’t my own in any kind of definite way,” Tyau explains.

The notion of family and all that word entails, especially when applied to the rituals surrounding food, is what spurred Tyau - who is mostly Chinese, part Hawaiian with a smidgen Portuguese - to write this, her first, novel.

After hearing National Book Award-winner Charles Johnson speak about the “communal voice” in his novels, Tyau realized the same held true for her island culture. “I thought, ‘That’s true. There is no single Hawaiian voice.”’

Her own experience demonstrates that. She hails from a generation that wanted its children to be better educated. “We were not encouraged to speak pidgin English,” she says. “We only spoke it with our friends.”

Now, however, a growing number of Hawaiians of all ethnic origins are turning back to a way of speaking that is inherently home-grown. And it’s showing up in print.

“There’s really quite a body of literature in the islands now that’s written in pidgin,” Tyau says.

Hers is only one. Even then she was asked by her editors to tone it down. She did, but only to a point.

“I wanted to convey the idea that the words were so ingrained in the culture that the people speaking them didn’t think of them as foreign,” she says.

Neat, yah? OK, story all pau now.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: READING Kathleen Tyau will read from her novel “A Little Too Much is Enough” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Auntie’s Bookstore, Main and Washington.

This sidebar appeared with the story: READING Kathleen Tyau will read from her novel “A Little Too Much is Enough” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Auntie’s Bookstore, Main and Washington.

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