Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Kathleen Tyau's "Makai"

By Christy Wegener

OCTOBER 11, 1999: 

Makai by Kathleen Tyau (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), hardcover, $24

In order to live in a remote paradise, one must acquire a unique standard of living. In her second novel Makai, Kathleen Tyau captures the essence of island living through the unraveling of two distinctly opposite characters. A revealing portrayal of two Chinese-Hawaiian women and their troublesome friendship is the focus of this lusciously descriptive novel. The multi-cultural island of Oahu provides the backdrop as Tyau takes us down beachside streets filled with fat Hawaiian women making lei's, sushi stands and Navy men preparing to go to sea.

Shy and responsible, Alice Lum constantly feels overshadowed by the provocative and flirtatious antics of her best friend Annabel Lee. Tyau brings us intimately close to her characters. We know when Alice is feeling fat in her bathing suit, or when Annabel is feeling overtly sexy in hers. Initially, it seems as if Alice is just a suffering shadow of insecurity next to the overconfident, outrageousness of Annabel, but her genuine, heartfelt manner eventually begins to shimmer. On the contrary, Annabel's flashy front begins to wane after the sparkle fades.

The girls fight for the attention of Sammy Woo, a slop boy from Annabel's father's Chinese restaurant. Sammy is initially drawn to the seductive wooing of Annabel, but eventually ends up marrying Alice. Annabel moves away, while Alice and Sammy move to the remote island of Maui, where she is nearly killed in a flash flood. Years pass before the women reunite and begin to confront their difficult past.

This is a story of contrast and depth. Themes of good vs. evil and shyness vs. boldness are laced throughout this colorful account of two women's lives. Thick with vivid, picturesque details of island life, Makai serves equally as an adequate work of travel writing and an engaging novel.


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