East Wind, Rain

She's a talented action writer. If only her dialogue had the same power.

By Caroline Paul

William Morrow (April), $23.95


Paul reads on May 3 at 7 p.m. at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, 601 Van Ness (at Golden Gate), S.F. Admission is free; call 441-6670 or visit www.bookstore.com

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In Caroline Paul's East Wind, Rain, native Hawaiians and Japanese-Americans struggle with the aftermath of a Japanese fighter pilot crash-landing on the island of Niihau in the hours after Pearl Harbor. The author uses a true story about the crash and the family-owned island as a springboard toward an ambitious fictional tale told from the viewpoints of multiple characters. Unfortunately, the complexity overshadows the wonderful core of the novel: the moral dilemma of Yoshio Harada — a Japanese-American who isn't Japanese, American, or native — as he considers his duties to the locals, to America, and to his mother country. Paul's descriptions evoke the warm, communal tone of an island that time (nearly) forgot, but she has trouble weaving her impressive historical research on Niihau and its inhabitants into the plot. A master metaphor of workers, slaves, gods, and lords, which stretches from the island's apiaries to its owner to the Japanese emperor, falls short. As Paul proved in the widely praised memoir Fighting Fire, about her experiences in the San Francisco Fire Department's elite rescue squad, she's a talented action writer, and this novel's thriller-ish concluding chapters make great use of that skill. If only her characters' dialogue and inner monologues had the same power.

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