Kiana Davenport’s Shark Dialogues (1994) is a powerful look into the brutal, fraught history of the Hawaiian Islands through seven generations of one Hawaiian family. Focusing on a polarizing matriarch, Pono, the novel flashes backward and forward in time to tell the story of Pono’s ancestors, her life’s true love, and her daughters and granddaughters.
Written in lush prose that creates a visceral feel for the joys and horrors of life, Shark Dialogues is rich with descriptions of the Hawaiian islands and the interior lives of the women at the core of the story. Pono looms large for everyone—not so much for her statuesque height as for her forbidding air. Pono raises four daughters on her own; while she provides clothes and food and shelter for them, with their father never in sight and never mentioned, she is unable to give them love.
Pono is the kind of strong, complex, and even
infuriating character that will invite discussion.
Pono’s secret—the man she loves, Duke, is afflicted with leprosy and the taboo of his condition will only bring shame upon her and her daughters—forms the central struggle of her life. For a book group, the questions of why she does not reveal her truth to her own children and why she only shares this knowledge with her granddaughters towards the end of her life make for rousing examinations. Pono is the kind of strong, complex, and even infuriating character that will invite discussion.
The story of each granddaughter who comes to Pono’s magical villa on the Big Island is also told. We learn of the inner lives of Jess, Rachel, Vanya and Ming.
If you enjoy rich, historical fiction with strong female characters set against an epic span of time told with emotional force, then Kiana Davenport’s Shark Dialogues is for you.