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  • Written by Kiana Davenport
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  • Song of the Exile
  • Written by Kiana Davenport
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780345515445
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Written by Kiana DavenportAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kiana Davenport


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: September 30, 2008
Pages: 384 | ISBN: 978-0-345-51544-5
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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In this epic, original novel in which Hawaii's fierce, sweeping past springs to life, Kiana Davenport, author of the acclaimed Shark Dialogues, draws upon the remarkable stories of her people to create a timeless, passionate tale of love and survival, tragedy and triumph, survival and transcendence. In spellbinding, sensual prose, Song of the Exile follows the fortunes of the Meahuna family--and the odyssey of one resilient man searching for his soul mate after she is torn from his side by the forces of war. From the turbulent years of World War II through Hawaii's complex journey to statehood, this mesmerizing story presents a cast of richly imagined characters who rise up magnificent and forceful, redeemed by the spiritual power and the awesome beauty of their islands.



"... SOON THE 'IWA BIRD WILL FLY. HUGE MAMMAL WAVES WILL breach and boom. It will be Makahiki time. Autumn in my islands ..."

She sits up quickly in the dark, taking her body by surprise. Her fingers roam her face, a face once nearly flawless. She drags her knuckles down her cheeks.

Outside, electrified barbed wire hums. She feels such wrenching thirst, she sucks sweat coursing down her arm. Then carefully she rises, gliding like algae through humid air. She listens for the sea. For that is what she longs for--waves cataracting, corroding her to crystals. From somewhere, gurgling latrines. Even their sound is comforting.

A kerosene lamp is steered into the dark. Sunny watches as dreamily it floats, comes down. A soldier's hand, the hand of memory, places it on the floor, revealing a yeasty, torn mosquito net. Inside, a young girl on a narrow bed, so still she could be dead.

In watchtowers surrounding the women's compound--twenty Quonset huts, within each, forty women--guards yawn and stroke their rifles. One of them half dozes, dreamily composing an impeccable letter to his family in Osaka. "Mother, we are winning.... The Imperial Japanese Army will prevail!" He is growing thin.

In one hut a young girl, Kim, pulls her net aside. Burning with pain, she crawls into Sunny's narrow bed, into her arms, and sobs.

Sunny calms her, whispering, "Yes, cry a little, it will help you sleep."

"It's hardest when the sky turns light. I think of my family who I will never see again. I want to run outside, throw myself against the fence." Sunny sighs, breathes in the smell of sewage, failing flesh. "Kim, be strong. Think of music, think of books--normal things we took for granted."

"I don't remember normal things." Kim scratches at her sordid legs, a girl of sixteen. "I don't remember life.

" Sunny shakes her gently, feeling mostly bone. "Listen now. When the whistle blows for mustering, we'll stand up straight, eat whatever scraps they throw. No matter how filthy the water, we'll drink. With what is left we'll bathe. We'll do this for our bodies, so our bodies will know we still have hope for a future."

"What future?" Kim whispers. "Two years of this. I only want to die."

"Hush, and listen. Death would be too easy, don't you see?" Sunny sighs, begins to drift. "... In Paris now it would be cool. We would stroll the boulevards." Her voice turns dreamy. "We might even take a cab."
Kim looks up, asking softly, "Will the drivers be rude again?"

"Oh, yes. And my French is so bad. Maybe this night we would go to Chez L'Ami Louis."

"Oh! The food is rich, so excellent." Kim momentarily comes alive, for this is her favorite game. Imagining.

"What wine shall we order? The house Fleurie?"

"And paté. And oysters! Will you dip mine in horseradish, Sunny?"

"Of course. And I will scold you when you pocket the matches, such a tourist thing."

Her voice softens. She thinks of Keo, their time in Paris. Rocking in lush geometries of morning light, nothing between them but heartbeats. Then spinning under marble arches, through terraced parks, young and careless and exiled. Not seeing Paris collapsing around them, not seeing their lives were crumbling.

"How happy we were. Grabbing each moment, so alive."

"I have no such memories," Kim weeps. "I never shall."

"Of course you will! One day this will end. You will heal. Life will help you to forget."

"... Yes. Maybe life is waiting in Paris. Beauty and adventure. And shall we walk this evening down the Champs Elysées? Shop for the softest kid gloves? And cologne? Or maybe take a café and wait for Keo. I'll close my eyes, pretend I'm there, just looking on."

"Shh," Sunny whispers. "Soon it will be daylight. If they find us together, they'll beat us again."

She feels tears come: hunger, torture, incessant pain, the knowledge that she and this girl--all of them--are dying.

"Don't think so much. It will consume you. You will never survive."

"Survive. For what?" Kim's voice grows loud; girls sit up listening behind their nets. "You talk of life. How can we face life after this? How can we face ourselves?"

Sunny's voice turns urgent. "We must live. Or what have we suffered for? Will these years have been for nothing?

" Under her pillow is a makeshift map, drawn so she can remember where they are, where they were shipped to months ago. Here is the town of Rabaul on the island of New Britain, east of Papua New Guinea, just north of Australia. Here is the Pacific Ocean and, far to the northeast, Hawai'i. Honolulu, home. Farther out is the world, the great oceans. Far across the Atlantic, there is Paris. Yesterday. But, always, her mind snaps back to Rabaul.
Exhausted, weak beyond knowing, Kim sinks back on the filthy mattress, stale grains of rice matting her hair. "I want to sleep, I want to dream. Oh, take me back to Paris, shops, cabarets. Tell me again how you and Keo rode in a car with the top down....

" Paris, Sunny thinks. We were so innocent. Not understanding trains were already leaving stations, streets were darkening with blood. She sighs, begins again, dreamily, and as she talks, girls struggle from their beds, move down the aisle, brushing her mosquito net. Some so thin, their movements seem delicate, some so young they are children, ghosts weaving through a scrim. Wanting only to listen and dream, they sit with arms entwined, heads bowed against each other.
Kiana Davenport

About Kiana Davenport

Kiana Davenport - Song of the Exile

Photo © Frank Morgan

Kiana Davenport was born and raised in Kalihi, Hawaii. Author of the critically acclaimed novel Shark Dialogues, she has been a Fiction Fellow at Radcliffe's Bunting Institute and the recipient of a Fiction Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Boston and Hawaii.


"Reading this novel is an overwhelming experience. . . . Davenport's prose is sharp and shining as a sword, yet her sense of poetry and love of nature permeate each line."

"PASSIONATE . . . Song of the Exile transports the reader into an often-magical world by the power of its story. Its language is at times a song, and sometimes a cry in the dark. . . . Davenport's imagination and vision will haunt you for a long time."
--Chicago Tribune

"AN INCREDIBLE NOVEL . . . Davenport weaves the history and culture of Hawaii . . . into the restless search for self-discovery of her unforgettable characters. . . . Profound, lyrical, insightful."
--Booklist (starred review)

--New Woman
About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Guide

"An overwhelming experience--.Davenport's prose is sharp and shining as a sword, yet her sense of poetry and love of nature permeate each line--.haunting."
--Isabel Allende

"An incredible novel--profound, lyrical, insightful."
--Booklist (starred review)

"Davenport writes with exquisite intimacy--[she] weaves into her lush narrative indelible portraits of Honolulu's narrow back streets."--Elle

"Passionate--Song of the Exile transports the reader into an often-magical world by the power of its story. Its language is at times a song, and sometimes a cry in the dark--.Davenport's imagination and vision will haunt you for a long time."
--Chicago Tribune

"Lyrical--The success of Song of the Exile lies in Davenport's commitment to telling a story that has been shamefully silenced."
--San Francisco Chronicle

"Captivating--[A] rich tapestry of myth and history, of the political and domestic sphere, of brutal desire and rare moments of exquisite joy, the final song played is, if not entirely triumphant, then at last and completely transcendent."--Elizabeth Haas, bn.com

"Song of the Exile is written to be a popular novel, which is to say it ahs a story that sweeps across three continents and is fired by a flaming romance. What separates it from its genre, however, is its intensity of feeling, its body of sensuous detail present on every one of its pages, and its dedication to a level of writing very few bestsellers possess."
--Norman Mailer

"Nuanced and haunting, Song of the Exile reveals the emotional truths hidden beneath the World War II euphemism 'comfort women.' A half century late, this important and powerful novel gives these women a way out of the perpetual exile of the forgotten."
--Gloria Steinem

About the Author

Of Native Hawaiian and Anglo-American descent, KIANA DAVENPORT was raised and educated in Hawaii. She is the author for four previous novels, including the internationally acclaimed Shark Dialogues, a multi-generational saga set in Hawaii from the nineteenth century to the present. Her short stories have been included in the Pushcart Prize collection in 1998, and the O. Henry Awards Anthologies in 1997, 1998, and 2000. Recipient of a fiction grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, she was also a 1992-93 Bunting Fellow at Harvard-Radcliffe, and the 1997-98 Visiting Writer at Wesleyan University. Davenport has traveled extensively throughout the Pacific and Asia researching her novels and short stories. Song of the Exile, based mostly on fact, took five years of research. Her travels were a very personal journey as well as fodder for her writing: "As I traveled throughout the Pacific and the Pacific Rim, interviewing World War II survivors, I began to understand what my father had experienced fighting at Midway and Guadacanal. I also saw how war damages humans irreparably. During interviews, men and women broke down and sobbed even after fifty years."

Discussion Guides

1. Keo's jazz mentor emphasizes the importance of knowing a tradition before experimenting with it. To what traditions is Song of the Exile indebted? How does Kiana Davenport borrow and blend various narrative traditions--Greek mythology, Hawaiian folklore, and chronicles of war--to create her own?

2. Discuss how the structure of the novel mirrors the workings of memory. What does the novel show us about the past's place in the present?

3. A number of landscapes are traversed throughout the course of the novel's action; some seem to exert a greater influence on character that others. What do we learn about the extent to which place shapes character? And how can character shape place? Also, how does the novel challenge or uphold traditional notions of home?

4. Much of Song of the Exile chronicles characters' attempts to bring their interior lives into some sort of harmony with the exterior world, the world of others. What sort of obstacles most often appear between the two? Which prove the most formidable, and why? What resources do Keo, Sunny, or Malia find or find lacking when confronted with trial?

5. What was your understanding of the term "comfort women" before reading this novel? From where did you derive your knowledge? What notions were undermined or supported? To what extent can a work of fiction color one's consciousness or effect social change, however modestly?

6. Kiana Davenport has spoken of the importance of resisting the temptation to depict the Japanese lieutenants as utter villains, noting the inherent humanity each of us possesses--however damaged it may be. Does she succeed in avoiding caricatures of evil? What light does Song of the Exile shed on the nature of cruelty and violence, particularly during wartime?

7. The novel is replete with exiles. What are the various songs of each one, and what is the significance of singing or at least making the attempt? What are the perils of silence?

8. Threats to freedom appear throughout the novel, some more conspicuous than others. Provide examples of the way notions of freedom differ from character to character. What restraints are imposed internally, and externally? How? Which prove most difficult to break?

9. Follow the shifting role of music in Keo's life, and explain the ways in which it opens up or limits his character. How does his means of expression compare to Malia's or Sunny's? What might Davenport be proffering about the role of creative self-expression in one's life? Or the extent to which one person can comprehend another?

10. How pointed are the politics in Song of the Exile? Do you see this as a novel with an agenda/ If yes, what? Does a novelist have a responsibility to engage the politics of the time he or she chronicles? Why?

11. Hawaii itself emerges as a character in the novel. What sort of transformation does it undergo? How does its evolution compare to that of the central character? What forces are at work on each? Which are unique to place?

12. Kiana Davenport has said that the writers she admires most get at the truly difficult themes through the subject of family. What is the role of family in Song to the Exile? How do abstractions such as freedom, happiness, and meaning find expression in the author's handling of family?

13. What is the dominant tone of the novel?

14. Samuel Johnson famously remarked that "the only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life or better to endure it." How does Song of the Exile measure up to his criteria?

15. At the novel's close, Oogh reminds Keo of the many voices we never hear, the "many meanings we never get." He then adds, "Perhaps we are all lost, and found, and lost again. Perhaps we are all lost, and found, and lost again. Perhaps only amazement keeps us alive." Look at Song of the Exile through the lens of Oogh's wisdom.

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