Poignant, lyrical, and utterly compelling, Behold the Many is a stunning novel that glows with longing and life.
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Behold the Many
By Lois-Ann Yamanaka
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUXCopyright © 2006 Lois-Ann Yamanaka
All right reserved.
Little Leah was the first to be taken to the orphanage deep in Kalihi Valley.
For months, Anah watched as Okaasan quietly burned the strips of old rice bag into which Leah had coughed up her contagious blood. Okaasan did not want Dai to discover their littlest one's illness. And she did not want Leah to infect the rest of the family.
Anah and Charles did as Okaasan had asked, collecting the soft tips of the a'ali'i and white ginger blossoms as the crippled kahuna lapa'au la'au who lived among the Chinese in Pake Camp Two had instructed. His Hawaiian herbal remedies had helped many of the plantation's immigrant workers. So at the kahuna's behest, Okaasan instructed Anah to cut stalks of young sugarcane from the field behind their house in Portuguese Camp Four.
She held her sister Aki's hand as they watched their mother extract all of the sweet liquid from these plants in her hidden nook furnished with wooden crates and planks behind the makeshift furo house Dai had built far away from Japanese Camp Three.
The eldest, Thomas, skulked around the banana trees. "Go do your schoolwork right now, Thomas and Charles," Okaasan said in her native Japanese to her first and second sons. "I do not want the mean-spirited teacher to chastise youagain." Okaasan twisted and squeezed the cheesecloth she had taken from the noisy tofu-ya lady from Fukuoka-ken to strain the juices of the flowers and plants. "And you," Okaasan said to Aki, placing a kind hand on the little one's face, "go watch for your father. I heard the pau hana whistle. Give me a warning as soon as you see him coming." Aki's small body disappeared beyond the furo house.
"Okaasan, what about Anah?" Thomas yelled in anger. "She has schoolwork too. How come you never scold Anah?"
"Never mind about Anah. She is not your concern. She is helping me," Okaasan said to him. "Go, go, hurry. Get out of here," she said to Anah, pushing her back, "or Thomas might-"
"Okaasan!" Aki called in warning from the front of the house.
"She is over there again in back of the house," Thomas reported to Dai in his native Portuguese, "making her useless plant medicine. She never listens to you, Father. She has not ironed your shirts. She has not made your dinner. And she is always talking in secret to the crippled kanaka man from Camp Two."
Anah moved to the opening of the nook to shield her mother from Dai's sight. Okaasan began pouring the juices together, haphazardly swiping the remnants of stem and leaf onto the ground.
Dai appeared as a huge, grotesque shadow in the shade of the nook. He pushed Anah out of his way, knocking over crates and planks. "Sumi," he called to his wife, "whassamatta you?" Homemade mead on his breath, he grabbed the tin can from her, sniffed it, then threw it over his shoulder.
"No, no! Baby sick-u, baby sick-u, Tomasu," Okaasan cried. She coughed into her hands to demonstrate the child's illness.
"How come you no cook my kaukau? Pau work, past pau hana time," Dai said, pulling Okaasan toward him by the sleeve of her cotton kimono. Okaasan would not respond. Dai was drunk. He spoke in Portuguese even though Okaasan did not understand. "My house is always filthy. And there is no food on my dinner table. My mother cooks better, anyway. Thomas and Charles," he called to his sons, "I am eating dinner with your grandmother. You can come with me or go hungry, with your damned useless sisters."
Thomas followed Dai. They would eat a hearty Portuguese ham hock stew with sweet bread that Okaasan was forced to bake twice a week for Vovó Medeiros and various other Portuguese in-laws in the large community forno that the haole owner of the O'ahu Sugar Company had built for his immigrant workers at the center of Portuguese Camp Four.
Anah helped her mother off the ground. She dusted herself off, then rushed to the kitchen to boil corn tea for their dinner of rice and pickled cabbage.
Anah motioned for Charles to follow her into the mountains above Kipapa Stream to gather more sugarcane, a'ali'i, and white ginger. In the dark of evening, in the nook behind the furo house, Anah extracted the juices of these plants.
Okaasan smiled at Anah when she presented her with the pulp-filled can. She sniffed it, dipped a finger, tasted it, and nodded. She quickly poured some of the liquid into little Leah's tea, then forced Anah, Aki, and Charles to drink the rest of the bitter tonic.
IT RAINED the day they took Leah to the orphanage in Kalihi Valley cradled deep in the Ko'olau Mountains, one of two volcanoes that formed the island of O'ahu. Freshwater streams and waterfalls ran from the wet upper peaks of Kalihi Uka to lower Kalihi Kai to Ke'ehi Lagoon, just west of Honolulu Harbor but many miles away from the O'ahu Sugar Plantation.
"Tuberculosis is highly contagious," the haole camp doctor had whispered to Dai in the quiet of the front room. "Many people worldwide, Tomas, living in unsanitary conditions I might add, have become infected by this epidemic. A terrible, terrible contagion." He tsked-tsked.
Dai nodded, utterly afraid for years of the leprosy that took a second cousin, then an older sister, then an aunt to the dreaded peninsula of no return, Kalaupapa, where a leper colony was established on Molokai's rugged north shore in 1886 by royal order of King Kamehameha V. Afraid of the bubonic plague that swept through an overcrowded and filthy Chinatown in 1900, the Board of Health forgoing quarantine and disinfection in favor of a purging by fire, leaving thirty-eight acres of slum in rubble and ash. Afraid of the epidemic of cholera, the worst outbreak since the ma'i oku'u that swept the Sandwich Islands in 1804, this time taking a paternal grandmother who shared living quarters with the Medeiros family soon after her arrival from the Azores in early 1889. Afraid of the influenza, typhus, whooping cough, the polio that crippled his younger brother, the smallpox that killed the newborn and the elderly And now very ashamed of the stigma of the consumption that threatened his entire extended family living in Portuguese Camp Four. And all because of his infected youngest daughter.
"I realize that on your luna's pay, you cannot afford the sanatorium at Leahi Hospital, Tomas," the doctor said, snapping his bag shut with authority. "So it is my urgent recommendation that you make arrangements for your daughter to be taken immediately to St. Joseph's. Mr. Campbell has instructed me to make absolutely certain that the child infected with the consumption is gone by-"
"Haibiyo?" Okaasan stammered.
"Yes, Mama-san, tu-ber-cu-lo-sis," the camp doctor enunciated loudly as though she were deaf and stupid. "Con-sump-shun. Very ki-ta-nai. Very pi-lau. Very su-jo." He looked pleased to speak the word dirty in many plantation languages.
"Akachan no come home?" Okaasan asked the doctor.
"Your daughter is not a baby, Mama-san."
"Akachan no come home?" Okaasan repeated.
The doctor shook his head. "She will receive adequate care from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart," he said. "Many plantation workers in your si-tua-tion-no more mo-ney. Send sick child St. Joseph get better. When sickness all gone, maybe your child come home, Mama-san."
"No, me, I go," Okaasan insisted, patting her chest. "Me go with akachan, Me Mama. You talk to Nihon-jin doku-toru?"
The doctor, agitated and insulted now, knew of the Japanese doctors she referred to. "I am a better physician," he told her. The Japanese doctors were brought to eight sugar plantations in 1886 by edict of the Bureau of Immigration.
In his anger, he began making large, impatient gestures as he tried to explain to her. "Over there in mountain, Mama-san, there are German brothers and priests-very nice, very good men of God. They build very big foundling home." He paused, not wanting to frighten her with an explanation of orphanage. "Hos-pi-tal, three-story, Mama-san. Plenty nuns. Way inside the mountain. Clean air," he said, exaggerating a deep, robust breath. "Proper diet-tabe-mono. Consumption all gone. Girl must go now, Mama-san. You listen to me or else-"
"No, no," Okaasan told the doctor. "Way in mountain?" she asked. She did not wait for his answer. "No. Tomasu-" She turned to Dai. "You talk to the Japanese doctors the plantation brought to help us," sine said to him in her native language, panicked and unable to find the words in pidgin.
"No, Mama-san, the girl must go now," the doctor resisted. "Very bad, very bad. You have four other keiki and family relations living close by. The girl is ki-ta-nai, Mama-san, dirty," he said with great impatience and import.
"Me take her back to Nihon," Okaasan said. "Maybe they can provide proper treatment in Japan," she consoled herself in Japanese.
"We have no money. The poor send their children to orphanages. It must be done or Mr. Campbell will take away my job," Dai said in an angry, Portuguese. "It cannot be helped. It is God's will."
She did not understand his words.
"We no mo' money Sumi-san. Listen doctor," Dai said, taking her face in his hands. "No mo' money for sanatoria. All kine family in plantation same-same. Children sick, go St. Joseph." He would have hit her had the doctor not been there. "Meu família," he said at last with great concern, looking out the window toward Vovó Medeiros's house. "I no like them sick from this Japanee illness-" He stopped, catching himself.
"Your family You only think about your own kind. Your own kind is filthier than the pigs," Okaasan said in Japanese. "The Portuguese do not even bathe every, night. Even the women are covered with hair. Your kind stinks worse than the Chinese. Our daughter was infected by the Portuguese."
"Speakee English," he said, glowering at her. "You listen me. And you listen doctor. All pau. No mo' talk." Dai looked at Leah lying on the futon by the window. "She go today" he said to the doctor. "You tell Mr. James Campbell, Medeiros like stay luna. Me listen Mr. James Campbell. Me not troublemaker." And then he muttered in Portuguese, "I will take her there myself if I have to."
Anah helped her mother, who collapsed into a chair. Dai left the house with the doctor, slamming the door behind him.
ANAH RODE with Charles and Leah in the back of the Andrade Dairy buggy full of empty milk cans and bottles. The smell of spoiled milk soaked deep into the wooden bed. Okaasan rode up front with Manuel Andrade. It would be a long day's trip from the O'ahu Sugar Plantation over the dry 'Ewa plains and into the city of Honolulu. The heat at sea level made the smell of sour milk unbearable.
They rode past groves of tall coconut trees, Chinese rice plantations, and taro farms near the huge ancient Hawaiian fishponds, twenty-seven in total, built by a chain of native men and boys from mountain to sea who moved rocks shoulder to shoulder to build the walls of the ponds. Hundreds of acres once the royal property of area kings and queens lined the coastal lands of the Pearl Harbor lochs.
They passed through the endless fields of rolling cane as they traveled along the train tracks of the O'ahu Railway built by a young, entrepreneurial Benjamin Franklin Dillingham. The train tracks, for years many called "Dillingham's Folly" would soon find the support of King David Kalakaua in 1889, the train tracks that brought king sugar to port, the train tracks that would lead Anah, her mother, brother, and little sister on this day to the city of Honolulu.
From the train station near the piers, Manuel Andrade clopped-clopped the horses along King Street, bustling with women under plumed hats and parasols, Chinamen mea 'ono pua'a vendors, stray cats, a Japanese funeral parlor, haole businessmen in formal suits, the candy man, fish peddlers, soldiers and whores, babies tied to the backs of mama-sans, noisy street merchants, and oxcarts filled with bags of rice or Japanese and Korean picture brides straight from the docks at Honolulu Harbor.
Anah listened to the slow squeak of the bed and the solemn creak of the wheels on the unpaved road. She had never seen the big, modern city of Honolulu, but fearing for the welfare of the little one, she turned her attention toward comforting her.
The buggy headed up into the mountains, past haole mission homes with vast lawns, Japanese flower growers, Okinawan piggeries, wet Chinese taro patches, and Portuguese and Hawaiian dairies, finally dropping them off on the deserted, narrow road leading to Kalihi Valley.
Charles hurried out of the hack, Anah passing little Leah to him, as Okaasan bowed and bowed to Manuel Andrade, offering him bento, fresh produce from her garden, and a loaf of sweet bread that she had packed for the long journey. He smiled briefly with a tip of his straw hat. They did not exchange words. He accepted her obligatory gifts, then spit tobacco juice on the ground with a quick jingle of the harness. He pulled the buggy away.
It began to drizzle. They walked to the orphanage in the rain on a dirt road that followed Kalihi Stream, the muddy smell of the taro patches and duck ponds at the foot of the Kapalama Hills, the debris of fallen mangoes, pungent, the fuzzy gray seeds slippery underfoot.
Anah tended to little Leah, who began falling behind when the road became a meandering mountainous trail, the mud deepening with the whipping rain. She was so tiny, this winter of her fifth year. She stopped to fill the scoop of her dress with soft mangoes.
"They get 'ono kaukau ova there," Anah told her, taking the rotten mangoes and wiping the orange slime off her sister's dress. "You eat plenty good food, make you all pau sick."
"And they got real toilet paper so you don't scratch your little ass when you wipe your shit," Charles added. He spoke in the crude Japanese he had learned from the disgraced gannenmono samurai who lived in a lean-to beyond the whorehouse on the banks of Waikele Stream. "Steal some for me when I come to visit you. I can wrap some around my penis to keep it warm at night." He ruffled her wet hair when she laughed, punching at his stomach, then pushing him away from her. Large drops of rain fell from the trees. They took shelter from a heavy downpour.
Leah looked at Anah. "Where we going?" she asked tentatively.
Anah did not answer.
"You staying with me?"
"When you all pau sick, I come back fast," Anah said at last, taking Leah's small hand in her own. "No worry, okay? Only chotto you stay ova there," she said with a small space between forefinger and thumb.
Anah hoped that Leah believed her.
Charles took out a long swath of rice bag that Okaasan had used to carry them when they were infants. He tied Leah onto his back like the strong big brother he was to his sisters even though Thomas was a full year older and Anah exactly nine months younger than him.
"My akachan," he said to Leah as she rested her cold face on his back. She always loved to pretend she was his baby.
"My paipa," she whispered into his ear, "my chichi." He always loved to pretend he was her father.
"Mine," Anah said, "my paipa!" She reached for Leah as Charles ran ahead. "My daddy, my chichi!"
Leah laughed at their game of keep-away.
Okaasan trudged on ahead of them, crying, wiping her face with both hands. She had no one, no family to turn to, disowned from Nihon to Hawai'i to Amerika to Kanada to Buraziru. She had disgraced the aggressive village matchmaker from Yanai City and her own desperate father by running away from her marriage contract, running from the docks of Honolulu Harbor with the filthy, hairy Porutogaru-go.
Anah stopped on the trail when she saw the foreboding three-story orphanage run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, built plank by plank at the turn of the century by two holy brothers, master carpenters from Germany, who were called on to serve the blessed church by Bishop Lanfranc Deusdedit, the third apostolic vicar of the Hawaiian Islands.
Excerpted from Behold the Many by Lois-Ann Yamanaka Copyright ©2006 by Lois-Ann Yamanaka. Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about Behold the Many are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Behold the Many.
1. In what ways is Behold the Many an American story? How does the author use the historical setting (Hawai‘i on the cusp of statehood) to move the story along? Why do you think the author chose this specific time in Hawai‘i's history as a backdrop for the novel?
2. How would you characterize the narrative structure of Behold the Many? What does it accomplish? How does this narrative reflect the novel's subject matter? In what ways does the narrative structure remind you of other novels? Is there a common theme to novels written in this narrative?
3. Reexamine the first three pages of the novel. Do you have a different reaction to them now, having read the novel in its entirety? What was your first reaction? Why do you think the author chose to begin the novel this way? What does it accomplish?
4. This novel is very much about mutually inclusive dualities. What are some of the more obvious dualities? What some of the more subtle dualities? What does this overlying theme reveal not only about religion, morality, marriage, family, and culture, but also about Hawai‘i and its history? Can you see these kinds of dualities in your own family, culture and experiences?
5. What are your impressions of Sumi, Anah's mother? Was she justified in poisoning her husband? What do you think of her as a woman and as a mother? In what ways does she bring out positive qualities in Anah?
6. What does the novel say about religion, specifically Christianity? Do you agree with it? Examine the characters of Sister Mary Deborah and Sister Bernadine. What do they represent, respectively? What does Anah's nativity/vigil candleholder represent? Why is Anah so taken with The Acts of John?
7. Do you think that Sister Bernadine is a tyrannical hypocrite, or does she truly believe that she is following God's path and order? Does she remind you of any other fictitious characters? What do you think of the other more frightening characters in the novel, such as Dai (Anah's father)? How does the author make them human, rather than monsters?
8. Examine the symbolism and metaphor of bees and hives. Why are they so important to Anah? What do they represent to her? "Deborah" is a Hebrew name that means "bee." What does this contribute to the character of Sister Mary Deborah?
9. If you are familiar with Jane Eyre, please compare any similarities between Jane's experience as a child at a Christian orphanage and Anah's. Can you find more parallels of themes, plots and characters between the two novels? What does this indicate?
10. What makes Anah such an empathetic character? Discuss the ways in which she personally resonates with you. What do you think of the choices she made, with her sisters, her children, her brother, and within her marriage? Should she have felt guilty about lying to her sisters? What would you have done, had you been in her situations?
11. Could Hosana's rape and murder have been prevented? Do you believe that she was cursed? What does the novel say about abuse and violence? Consider the character of Charles, and his explanation of the Medeiros family on pages 295298. What does explaining the family and himself through fairy tales reveal about his perspective?
12. Why did Aki, Leah and Seth need Hosana to be sacrificed in order to be appeased? What does Hosana represent to them? Is there any other way that Anah could have put them at peace?
13. What are your impressions of Anah's daughters? What do they each represent, to Anah and in the structure of the novel? Does their description on page 301 remind of you of another kind of narrative?
14. What does Behold the Many say about tragedy and catharsis? What does it say about marriage and family? Death and birth? Have you experienced emotions or tragedies similar to those of the characters? How much of your own life is reflected within the characters' relationships, experiences and culture?
15. What were your impressions of Hawai‘i before reading this novel? How have they changed? Were you surprised? If you have visited Hawai‘i, can you recall anything that reminded you of the descriptions in the novel?