In Gail Tsukiyama’s eighth novel, a small Japanese community on Hawaii’s Big Island is thrown into chaos in 1935 when the town’s golden boy, Daniel Abe, returns home after several years away on the mainland. His homecoming coincides with the eruption of Mauna Loa, a portentous omen, as the locals have long viewed its seismic activity as the manifestation of the mercurial moods of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes and fire and the creator of the Hawaiian Islands.
As Daniel works to resettle into his former home and make peace with a tragedy that occurred while working as a doctor in Chicago, dormant secrets and sins of the past come bubbling up. Tensions rise further when he and the villagers learn that the lava flow from Mauna Loa is headed directly for them.
With The Color of Air, Tsukiyama revisits themes that have been constant over the course of her 20-year career, tenderly exploring the complicated web of family and the resilient nature of the human spirit, while also shedding light on an important period of Asian history, this time the indentured servitude of Asian people on the sugar plantations that were once Hawaii’s lifeblood. As always, Tsukiyama’s storytelling is deeply compassionate, undoubtedly buoyed by her personal ties to the material (her father was Japanese American by way of Hawaii), which lends a quiet and sincere intimacy to the proceedings.
There is plenty of interpersonal drama in this twisting tale of love and loss, but the novel’s true joy and beauty come from the intensely atmospheric writing. Tsukiyama’s prose is lush and sensual, fully immersing the reader in this pocket of paradise and bringing the island’s spirits to life. She elevates Hawaii from a simple setting to a character as dynamic and vital as its human inhabitants.
An intoxicating blend of historical events and fiction, The Color of Air is a richly rewarding reading experience perfect for fans of Lisa See or Isabel Allende, or anyone looking for a magical love story that transcends time.