Volcano by Garrett Hongo
A Memoir of Hawai'i

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Synopsis

Garrett Hongo grew up with a profound sense of estrangement from his past: "Family secrets, evasions, and my own ignorance fed an anger and a desire to know that would not abate." Born in Hawai'i, raised in Los Angeles after the age of six, a fourth generation Japanese American, inheritor of a recent past more comfortably forgotten than kept alive -- for Hongo, the "knowing" he so desired would come only when he returned to Volcano, the tiny town where he was born. This beautifully rendered memoir is an account of that journey, finally undertaken when he was in his early thirties: a journey toward the knowledge, about himself and his history, that would give him, at last, "a way to belong and a place to belong to."

Arriving in Volcano with his wife and infant son, Hongo settled in a cottage in the rain forest, amidst the "relentlessly spectacular landscape" below the summit of the Kilauea volcano. There, near the general store once owned by his grandfather, among people who quickly recognized the family resemblance in his face, he began to forge a connection to the human culture that, though he was pulled from it at an early age, helped to shape him, and to the living earth that helped to shape that culture. In this way, Hongo -- both native son and prodigal son -- found his own path into a world where "nothing was without its meaning or its memories."

In a powerful narrative interwoven with natural history and laced with luminous descriptions of the volcano and its rain forest surroundings, the author combines childhood recollections with the richness of feeling, image, and information that this journey provided to him: about his own family, about the experience of the Japanese American community at large in this century, and about the relationship of both the inner and outer landscapes to the human imagination. The result is a remarkable, deeply moving "book of origins" -- a revelation of the ways in which cultural identity, personal history, and love of place are created, lost, and regained.
 

About Garrett Hongo

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Garrett Hongo attended Pomona College, the University of Michigan, and the University of California at Irvine, where he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in English. He is a professor at the University of Oregon, where he was Director of the Program in Creative Writing from 1989 to 1993. He is the author of two books of poetry, Yellow Light and The River of Heaven. He lives in Eugene, Oregon, with his wife and their two sons.
 
Published May 10, 1995 by Knopf. 342 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Education & Reference, Travel, History. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Volcano

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A strikingly elegant family history, shot through with a poet's appreciation of Hawaiian geology.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai'i

Publishers Weekly

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On visits to and long stays in Hawaii, award-winning Japanese American poet Hongo (The River of Heaven), born in Hawaii but reared in Los Angeles, set out to understand his family and his heritage. Li

May 01 1995 | Read Full Review of Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai'i

Publishers Weekly

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Japanese American poet Hongo presents a memoir and family history centering around a return trip to his birthplace, a small Hawaiian village called Volcano. (June)

May 27 1996 | Read Full Review of Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai'i

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