“Dolores’s father deemed her useless when she was seven.” So begins Linda Ulleseit’s novel The Aloha Spirit. With those words, I dropped into Dolores’s world, a Hawaii beyond and deeper than the tourist vision of grass skirts and ukuleles. Through her eyes the mosaic of cultures that is Hawaii–native Hawaiian, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Anglo, etc.–comes to life.
When Dolores’s father and brother move to California to pursue better employment, she is given to a Hawaiian family not her own. Life is hard, so she is put to work, as is everyone else in the family. She learns that family includes everyone whether they be relatives or friends. Dolores feels the loss of having a family of her own and longs for a sense of belonging. She works to become useful so she can join her father and brother in California. And she learns the importance of living the aloha spirit.
Aloha is not just a word of greeting or farewell; rather, aloha spirit is a way of being that is delineated in Hawaii state law. It is a working philosophy of Native Hawaiians which is the essence of relationships based on mutual regard and caring. The aloha spirit becomes the measuring stick against which Dolore measures her decisions.
As the reader follows Dolores through her challenges to come to terms with a life of hard work, her attempts to forge a family of her own, a difficult marriage, and her move to the mainland, Ulleseit sets her story within the trajectory of world events from the 1920s, the Los Angeles World Fair, the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II, and eventual Hawaiian Statehood.
Ulleseit offers a captivating story. The pace is gentle as the trade winds. She evokes island life with lyrical description and the inclusion of words in Hawaiian, Spanish and other non-English languages. She deftly weaves the definition into the text which enhances the reader’s experience. In addition, she provides a glossary of non-English words for those who wish to reference it.
From the opening words, I cared about Dolores, the choices she makes, the circumstances that influence them, and their consequences. Ulleseit creates believable characters that have both strengths and flaws. The pace is gentle but compelling. I didn’t want to put it down, but to turn the page or start the next chapter.
Ulleseit states that her passion is to bring the voices of empowering unknown women to life through her stories. She does so admirably with The Aloha Spirit. In these days of limited travel, enjoy the gentle ocean breezes of Oahu through Ulleseit’s latest novel.