by Linda Ulleseit
The Aloha Spirit introduces us to the Island of Hawaii in 1922 and seven-year old Dolores as she is left with an adoptive family when her Father and Brother relocate to California. Home life is hard, back-breaking work and when she is given the opportunity to become a live-in helper to her newly-wed, pregnant friend, Maria, she jumps at the chance. Dolores finally feels settled and accepted but then the large, Portuguese Medeiros family enter her life. Despite Maria’s warnings, Dolores marries Manolo Medeiros after a whirlwind courtship. But with the storm clouds of Pearl Harbour looming and Manolo’s drinking escalating, can Dolores keep The Aloha Spirit alive?...
I thought this was an involving and accomplished novel. I found it hard to put down; it’s a sweeping, generational read and Dolores is a quietly masterful main character. The reader palpably feels her come of age from such a small girl to a Mother of two in her thirties. Her character arc is believable and investable. Notwithstanding the buffeting that life gives her, she maintains a simple humility and hardworking ethos combined with a thread of steel. However, despite the constraints of the time and her religion, I just longed from a reader’s perspective for her to raise her voice a little louder at times, especially to her brother Paul’s wife, Sofia. The raft of characters we encounter are all nicely individual; Noelani was a standout for me, I also enjoyed Dolores’ time with Maria and Peter and I thought Carmen’s blindness was a poignant inclusion. Manolo’s behaviour was a little predictable but you really felt the tension and downright fear when he was in the family home; I found myself feeling a little sorry for him in places, despite his inexcusable behaviour. At the very heart of the novel is the relationship between Dolores and Alberto Rodrigues, Manolo’s cousin. It’s understated and so much that passes between them is unspoken. I thought it was a clever strategy that Alberto maintained his distinctive pidgin accent; it provided subtle distance between him and the rest of the Medeiros clan. I did not expect the ending; it was quite a sudden twist that I thought worked well and, given Dolores’ life up to that point, was very apt.
The entire book, even when the action is in the US, is infused with Hawaiian culture; colours, smells, weather, food and language. The descriptive imagery is lush, exotic and absorbing aided by the relaxed, breezy tempo of the narrative. Ms Ulleseit’s enthusiasm for Hawaii, its people and heritage is evident in every line. The prose feels engulfed in sunlight despite navigating some difficult issues. Her Husband’s Grandmother, who was the inspiration behind the book, would be incredibly proud.
The Aloha Spirit is a polished, sumptuous and enjoyable novel bringing the spirit of Hawaii and its people richly to life. Highly recommended. Buy from: