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Book Review: Cannibal Nights: Pacific Stories Vol. II by Kiana Davenport

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Brutally beautiful. As noirishly dark as the deep depths of the Pacific Ocean that spawned them. These stories of the people, places, exploits and exploitations of the islands of the Pacific will haunt you long after you close the book. Important literature for the 21st century. They are stories of tragedy and triumph, genius and depravity. Tales of love and betrayal told in a voice at times as soft and reassuring as the whisper of the sea yet as powerful as a tsunami. There is perhaps no better, nor more important story teller alive, recounting tales of Americas 50th state and the people, islands and waters surrounding and embracing her shores.

“Assassin Orders Peking Duck” – The opening story recounts the reactions and fears of Hawai’i after the events of 9/11, by the populace as well as a Navy SEAL. In prose as vivid as a sunset, it is a tale of paranoia fulfilled in a world gone mad. Of a father and family’s hopes for the next generation dashed in a senseless act. It is a story of vengeance, nearly as senseless as the act that invoked it, yet somehow justified. It is a story where you “stop questioning what is good and what is bad and call a truce on metaphysics.”

“Mysteries Of Rapa Nui” – Transports you in a time machine to 1849 when Blackbirders hunted the Pacific Islands for slaves and the means and methods a proud, dying race would go to to protect the few men left, and their way of life on Easter Island. It tells of a clash of cultures, one doomed and the other doomed in their soul.

“Cannibal Nights, Colonial Afternoons” – Recounts the last days of the painter Paul Gauguin. Exiled and without a patron, he is exploited by those who wish to preserve his marketable genius by condemning him to a world where no medical help is available. It’s the tale of the struggle for a mans soul, between the ancient gods of the island jungles and the imported gods of the west. Riddled with tropical ulcers, syphilis and a half dozen other diseases he is cared for by the local population with whom he has a love/hate relationship. He comes to understand that it is neither love nor lust that drives him insane, but his art. It’s also the tale of a practical joke and how the natives that did care for Gauguin exploited the greed of those who bled him dry and left him to die.

“The French Foreign Legionnaire’s Bâtard” – Tells of a brilliant Tahitian woman’s quest for knowledge, her heritage and love. It recounts her joy in discovering a new world and how she rose above petty prejudice only to be undone by a simple lie.

“Flashness” – Is a warning of the consequences of senseless acts of hatred. It is a tale of rape and revenge told in stark prose and vivid detail, a portrait painted in reality that will leave you hiding your eyes in shame.

These and the other stories in Cannibal Nights: Pacific Stories Volume II are told in sparse realistic prose, yet the words convey a depth that is somehow poetic. You will feel the power of the sea and the power of the spirits of the people that inhabit the islands. Beautifully brutal and brutally beautiful, Kiana Davenport is a master storyteller and chronicler of the deep history, beauty, spirit and emotion of the Pacific Paradise and all her peoples. I’ve heard Ms. Davenports work described as “Pacific Noir” yet it is so much more than that. Noir conveys a sense of souls lost, and not worth redeeming. True, these are tales of murder, rape, lust and doomed love. They are tales of greed and exploitation, tales of theft of wealth and innocence. They are stories of loss, but not irredemption. The individuals may be irrevocably lost, a-swim in a dark sea, yet their souls, their hearts and dreams are admirable and most definitely will be, and are worthy of redemption. These stories are quiet simply great literature from one of the great original voices of the new century.

Kiana Davenport is descended from a full-blooded Native Hawaiian mother, and a Caucasian father from Talladega, Alabama. Kiana has travelled widely to the islands of the Pacific and collected the oral histories and stories of the peoples, some of which form the basis of her works. She has also lived on Tonga, which is the back ground of one of the stories in Cannibal Nights and assures me there really is a portrait of George Bush in the hotel. She also is aquainted with many families that lost loved ones, several of them college students killed in the Al Qaeda nightclub bombings in Bali in 2003.

Kiana is the author of the internationally best-selling novels, Shark Dialogues , Song of the Exile , House of Many Gods, and a forthcoming novel, The Chinese Soldier’s Daughter, from Riverhead/Penguin. Cannibal Nights is the second collection in the Pacific Stories series following on the success of House Of Skin, Prize Winning Stories.

A graduate of the University of Hawaii, she has been a Bunting Fellow at Harvard University, a Visiting Writer at Wesleyan University. Her short stories have won numerous O. Henry Awards, Pushcart Prizes, and the Best American Short Story Award, 2000. Her novels and short stories have been translated into twenty-one languages. She lives in New York City and Hawaii.

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I was born in Pomona, California at a very young age. I had a pretty normal childhood…or I was a pretty normal child hood if mom is telling the story. I was a paperboy and washed cars. I was a soda fountain jock-jerk and a manic mechanic but my first real job was as a labor organizer in a maternity ward. Then, because of the misjudgment of a judge I spent nearly 10 years in the service of our country mostly on KP duty. Our country sure turns out a lot of dirty dishes. I am a past master at pots and pans. They eventually recognized my real talent and let me wander around some very unfriendly places carrying a big radio that didn’t work. Along the way I took up the bass guitar, jotting down stories, electronic engineering and earned a degree in advanced criminal activities. I spent most of my adult life, if you can call it that, working in the I.T. industry, which I was particularly suited for since we worked in rooms with no windows. On and off I taught in colleges, universities and reform schools as a student teacher… I like smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, and crowded seedy bars where I have been known to quote Raymond Chandler as pickup lines. I have always been a voracious reader, everything from the classics, to popular fiction, history to science but I have a special place in my heart for crime fiction, especially hard-boiled detective fiction and noir. I write a book and music review blog for all genres at The Dirty Lowdown. And another dedicated to Crime Fiction and all things Noir called Crimeways. It’s named after the magazine that appeared in the Kenneth Fearing classic, The Big Clock. There I write scholarly reviews of the classic hard boiled, noir and crime fiction books from the 20's through today. Mostly I drool over the salacious pictures on the covers. I also write for Tecnorati/BlogCritics where i am part of a sinister cabal of superior writers.