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Winner of the Hawai‘i Book Publishers Association Ka Palapala Po‘okela Award for Excellence in Literature
Based on historical events, Anshu is a tale of passion and human triumph in the face of extraordinary adversity, spanning the cane fields of Hawai‘i and the devastation in Hiroshima. A pregnant, unmarried Hilo teenager, Himiko Aoki, finds her Hawai‘i Japanese American identity clashing with Japan’s cultural norms when she is sent to live with relatives in Tokyo in 1941 and becomes trapped there with the outbreak of war. When America drops the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Himiko finds herself adapting in unexpected ways just to survive.
This publication was made possible with support from the Cooke Foundation, the Mayor’s Office of Culture & the Arts (MOCA), the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (SFCA), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Anshu is Juliet S. Kono’s first novel. Her previous publications include two books of poetry, Hilo Rains and Tsunami Years; a collaborative work of linked poems with three other poets, No Choice but to Follow; a short story collection, Ho‘olulu Park and the Pepsodent Smile; and a children’s book, The Bravest ‘Opihi. The recipient of several awards, including the US/Japan Friendship Commission Creative Artist Exchange Fellowship, she has been anthologized widely, most recently in the Imagine What It’s Like: A Literature and Medicine Anthology. In 2006, she won the Hawai‘i Award for Literature.
Born and raised in Hilo, Hawai‘i, she now lives in Honolulu with her husband and teaches composition and creative writing at Leeward Community College.
Born of fire,
fire my element,
Himiko, child of fire, my name.
“Don’t play with fire!” Mama said. “Do you want to get burned?”
I loved fire. Played with it every chance I could. My parents worried that I might get hurt, burn the house down, or destroy the cane fields that took years to grow, and all that the sugar-plantation-camp people had worked for would go up in smoke. Worst of all, kill someone if not myself.
Early one morning, just after Papa left the house to work in the cane field to clear the weeds, I took some old Japanese newspapers from a bin near the wood-burning stove in the kitchen and rushed downstairs to make a crumpled paper mountain in a corner under the house. That done, I hastened upstairs to take the box of cowboy matches from the ledge above the stove, then ran into my parents’ bedroom to steal Mama’s prayer beads. Downstairs once more, I struck a matchstick on my geta, the way I had seen Papa scrape the soles of his boots to light his pipe. No luck. I looked around and dragged the fat match head on one of the rough beams that held up the house.
The gritty head caught fire. It rasped, looked close to dying, then flared. I cupped the flickering head and lowered it to the base of the Japanese newspaper pile. Old and dried, the papers caught fire instantly. With flames crackling, parts of the newspaper crinkled, rose, then fell into wisps of fragile gray ash, the heat destroying the long thread of ideograms, the stories—curled incantations, old murmurings—going up in smoke.
It was magic. I mumbled na-man dabs, na-man dabs, like the bald Buddhist priests at the temple, with the prayer beads I stole from Mama draped over my hands. Fire spoke to me. I clapped my hands, made wild-animal kicks, and scattered dirt into the air. Twirling in the dust like a frenzied death-spirit dancer and placing my hands toward the heel of the runaway flames, I lifted them up to circle the air and, like a child shaman, conducted the spirit forces around me. Fueled, the flames grew into a spindly tree, and the long pointy leaves brushed against my threadbare dress.
I was on fire. I ran out from under the house. I rolled on the ground and shielded my face.