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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Published May 10, 1995
Biographies & Memoirs, Education & Reference, Travel, History.