Sunday, May 28, 2006

Riding the Waves

Graham Salisbury, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction for Under the Blood Red Sun, and author of numerous award-winning novels and short stories, grew up in Hawaii.

So, it should come as no surprise that, like a top-class surfer, he knows how to ride the waves, spinning a tale that rises and falls and rises again, each peak in the action a little taller than the one that came before it, each obstacle rising like a mighty wave higher and higher... culminating in the story's climax.

Salisbury's newest book, House of the Red Fish, is a masterful exploration of the nuances of prejudice, touching on many of the issues (honor, courage, friendship, and the bond between fathers and sons) that Salisbury has probed in his earlier work.

But what's fascinating to watch as one reads through this elegantly plotted tale is how Tomi, the main character, has to confront successive waves that keep coming at him, getting bigger and bigger... each wave another obstacle that stands between him and his heart's desire.

The attack on Pearl Harbor didn’t only steal Tomi’s father and grandfather from his life (they were arrested after the attack). It stole his dream of fishing with his father on his father’s boat, the Taiyo Maru, which is sitting now underwater, sunk by the Navy under suspicion that it and its owner might aid invading Japanese forces.

Tomi wants to bring the boat back to the surface and dry it out so that it’s ready to sail out to sea when his father returns home from prison. In the face of ongoing suspicion, he pursues his goal against all obstacles in the course of this story, refusing to give up.

The biggest obstacle in his efforts--aside from the daunting practical ones of figuring out a way to physically lift the boat off the bottom of the canal--is Keet Wilson, a former friend who has become Tomi’s enemy after the Japanese attack.

Keet makes Tomi’s life difficult in the days ahead. Not only does he (and his pals) disrupt Tomi's efforts, Tomi’s family lives in a house on the Wilson estate, and Tomi’s mother works as a maid for the Wilsons. So anything that Tomi does to make trouble with Keet can result in the loss of his mother’s job (the family’s sole source of income without the fishing boat) and their home.

Tomi wants to make his absent father proud... to carry on the Japanese tradition of sons honoring their fathers. To succeed in this, Tomi must persevere in the face of trouble just like the koi–the fish that symbolizes masculinity and strength because it can swim upstream against strong currents.

But it’s not easy for Tomi to remain loyal to his family’s Japanese heritage (or his father’s admonitions not to fight, not to shame the family), especially when the red paper koi that his mother raises on a bamboo pole above the roof to celebrate Tango-no-Sekku (Boy’s Festival) is destroyed by Keet, who insists no Japanese symbols be displayed on his family’s land.

Tomi’s relationships with his friends, a mix of haole (white), Portugese, Hawaiian, and Japanese boys, ring true to life as they fend off attacks by Keet and his white-only gang, and work together to raise Tomi’s father’s boat from the canal.

Indeed, the time that Tomi spends with his friends are like lulls between the waves... giving the reader (and Tomi) a chance to catch his breath before the next wave.

In the end, House of the Red Fish is a book about the joy and bonds of friendship, as well as what it truly means to look beneath a person’s skin color and speech patterns to understand what he’s truly made of.

It’s also a story about one boy’s struggle to live with integrity in the face of enormous prejudice, while offering eloquent testimony to the courage and loyalty that Japanese Americans displayed during a difficult time in American history.

But, most of all, House of the Red Fish is Salisbury’s passionate plea for readers to recognize in others the common humanity that each of us share.. as we swim together through the waves that life sends our way.

House of the Red Fish, scheduled for release July 25, 2006, is available from Wendy Lamb Books.

For more information about Graham Salisbury and his work, check out his website:

1 comment:

jo'r said...

I'm happy to see Graham has another book out. All of his books are imbued with such a deep presence of the ocean around Hawaii, and some deep father-son relationships that are so compelling to read about. The Hawaiian jargon dialogue of the youths was strange in the beginning but has come to lend a unique, special flavor to the fiction as I read each new book: Blue Skin of the Sea, Under the Blood Red Sun, Shark Bait, Jungle Dogs, Lord of the Deep, and Eyes of the Emperor--all wonderful books. In time, and with each new book, it's almost like having lived there for brief periods. 'Way to go, Sandy (Graham).