2022 HoMA Book Club Reading List
Kona Winds by Scott Kikkawa
January 26 & 29
Discussion led by HoMA Docent: Lynn Hiyakumoto
Kona Winds, the début novel by Japanese-American author Scott Kikkawa, is a hard-boiled noir murder mystery set in Honolulu in 1953, when Hawai‘i was evolving from a racially stratified, near-feudal plantation colony to the multi-ethnic 50th State.
Honolulu Police Department Detective Sergeant Frankie “The Sheik” Yoshikawa, a Nisei veteran of World War II, is assigned the case of a young local Japanese woman whose body is found in Honolulu Harbor under a pier. His investigation uncovers dark motives tied to a recent dock and sugar strike and a forbidden relationship between the scion of a prominent kamaʻāina haole family and a young woman from a growing immigrant community. Hindered by the limitations of race and class and haunted by the specter of his combat experiences in Europe and his resulting dependence on alcohol, Yoshikawa nonetheless resolves to bring the case to a successful conclusion.
Hawai‘i has been the setting for countless mysteries but most have been cozy crime stories or books that have featured Caucasian protagonists as outsiders in an exotic setting. Kona Winds was written with the firm belief that Hawai‘i is more than just a pretty tropical backdrop for the mischief of tourists: it can be, and was, a terrifying, sometimes sodden place whose social realities were ugly not so long ago and continue in some respects to go unresolved. In addition, the novel provides a well-researched glimpse into the police work of post-war Honolulu, which has rarely been written about in this way before.” – Bamboo Ridge Press
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
February 23 & 26
Discussion led by HoMA Docents: Hannah Slovin and Andrea Snyder
“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” (p. 11)
“Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Believing she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man called Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the lost love who, sixty years ago in Poland, inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn’t know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives…” (Goodreads)
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss, intertwines romantic and mysterious events into a story about love, loss, and identity. It is structured as a book-within-a-book: the novel book-club members are reading and the fictional book that plays a key role in the novel. Both are titled The History of Love.”
The old man Leo and the young girl Alma start on a path toward each other that begins, on Leo’s part, with his first love (also named “Alma”—Spanish for “soul”), and on Alma’s part, with her love for her parents, whose courtship centered on a book called The History of Love. The book moves through many revelations of identity and coincidences of plot, so that we never lose the sense that this is fiction. And yet, through Nicole Krauss’ writing, forthrightly and with tender humor depicting the emotion in the characters, they seem realistic.
The plot—and sub-plots—take many turns. Each throws more light on what it means to be loyal, not just to the memory of a person but also to the love for that person. While The History of Love does not belong to the genre of magical realism, it does evoke a sense of magic in showing how love leads to creative action outside the realm of the ordinary.
1. Leo Gursky and Alma Singer make an unlikely pair, but what they share in common ultimately brings them together. What are the similarities between these two characters?
2. Leo fears becoming invisible. How does writing fiction prove a balm for his anxiety?
3. What is the relationship between grief and love in the novel?
4. Despite his preoccupation with his approaching death, Leo has a spirit that is indefatigably comic. Describe the interplay of tragedy and comedy in The History of Love.
6. Why is it so important to Alma that Bird act normal? How normal is Alma?
7. What is the connection between Leo being a locksmith and writing The History of Love?
8. Uncle Julian tells Alma, Wittgenstein once wrote that when the eye sees something beautiful, the hand wants to draw it. How does this philosophical take on the artistic process relate to the impulse to write in The History of Love?
9. Many different narrators contribute to the story of The History of Love. What makes each of their voices unique? How does Krauss seam them together to make a coherent novel?
10. Leo decides to model nude for an art class in order to leave an imprint of his existence. He writes to preserve the memories of his love for Alma Mereminski. Yet drawings and novels are never faithful renditions of the truth. Do you recognize a process of erasure in the stories he tells us?
11. Survival requires different tactics in different environments. Aside from Alma’s wilderness guidelines, what measures do the characters in the novel adopt to carry on?
12. Most all of the characters in the novel are writers—from Isaac Moritz to Bird Singer. Alma’s mother is somewhat exceptional, as she works as a translator. Yet she is not the only character to transform others’ words for her creative practice. What are the similarities and differences between an author and a translator?
Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950's New York by Alexander Nemerov
March 26 & 30
Discussion led by HoMA Docent: Susan Palmore
Did you ever wonder how an artist develops and hones their passion, dedication, and skill to become a well-known painter? Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950’s New York gives us answer for one artist, Helen Frankenthaler, and it is complicated. Unlike many biographies, author Alexander Nemerov has written Helen’s story more like a novel in which he builds around eleven key dates from Helen’s arrival back to her hometown from Bennington College in 1950 to the opening of her first solo museum show in 1960.
To tell Helen’s story Nemerov dips back into her early life then moves through Helen’s experience of building a career as an artist in the midst of the dynamic community surrounding her. In the process the reader is givin a vivid picture of the New York art scene and its key players. Please join the discussion of Helen Frankenthaler and the development of her innovative use of color in painting.
Registration coming soon.
Vermeer's Hat by Timothy Brook
April 27 & 30
Discussion led by HoMA Docents: Carol Root and Bob Oaks
Registration coming soon.