Abandoned by her mother in the 1960’s and left to be raised by relatives, Ana grows up in Wai’anae, poverty stricken and an example of the repercussions of the illegal annexation of the Kingdom of Hawai’i for the native population. In the 90’s, Ana as a physician goes to a neighboring island to care for hurricane victims and meets a Russian filmmaker.
Nikolai’s and Ana’s stories are weaved together in a strange narrative of love, poverty, sadness, and survival. While romance swirls around them, they both must also face the impact of environmental abuse and government distrust–strong feelings for both the Native Hawaiian community and for post Soviet Russia.
What is House of Many Gods about?
This book is about a lot of things. Presented as a romance novel, the themes in the story Davenport writes are so much more than that. There are themes of family, grief, suffering, but also joy and love and health. There’s resistance and community, as well as strength and perseverance. This book is more specifically about Ana, growing up in a poor area of Hawai’i where Native Hawaiians are disenfranchised due to the historical stealing of their kingdom. Likewise there is Nikolai, growing up in the Soviet Union and trying to engage with the trauma of his life by filmmaking. Both of them have suffered injustice and pain at the hands of the world, and both of them have survived.
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
The book spans the period of time from the 1960’s to close to the present when it was published (2007). Many of the serious issues addressed, though, are still ones facing Native Hawaiians and Russians. The US military still absolutely abuses its access to the Hawaiian islands, and Russia is still recovering from the Soviet era, with a lot of socio-economic problems unresolved. I read this book in 2011 and it was poignant then; I believe it still applies today.
Tropes: Bonding through Suffering
Despite sustaining mostly separate narratives and lives, Ana and Nikolai are brought together by a mutual understanding of suffering. They bond through common themes of sorrow and trauma during a hurricane’s aftermath, despite the differences in how each handles said trauma.
Plot: War Really Sucks
Yeah so both Ana and Nikolai’s lives are somewhat torn apart by the inner turmoil and ultimately war of their home countries. For Nikolai, the struggles of residents of the Soviet Union are known and well studied. Ana’s struggles are with the use of Hawai’i by the US military is a less documented struggle. The US military has long occupied the Hawaiian islands and used them for military testing, which has had serious consequences largely for the Native population.
This book is a beautifully written narrative with an inexpressible amount of emotion packed into it. Davenport is part Native Hawaiian, and like most of her works this book was written to put Hawaiian voices out there and express the issues that affect the Native population heavily. The interesting nature of the story being partly entwined with Nikolai is luckily not center stage: Ana is the main character of this book, clearly. This book manages to touch on topics from healthcare in the islands to environmental justice to how poverty is absolutely inflicted with bias.
This was a five star read, so I think the only thing that would fall under this category is my memory of the fact that when I wrote an essay on this in high school I didn’t get to talk about the book nearly as much as I wanted to…
Again, this was a five star read. But you know what is bad? The illegal annexation of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. If you’re curious and want to learn more about the Native Hawaiian cause, check out these links:
- “Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom” – Wikipedia (jumping off point)
- NHOA – Native Hawaiian Organizations Association
- The Hawaiian Kingdom, a website dedicated to the history of the US occupation
This book is a beautifully written and compelling narrative that touches on so many aspects of life, but specifically from the perspective of a young Native Hawaiian woman. From the poverty that she experiences in her childhood to the way she reasserts her life and begins to work for the improvement of her community, she embodies strength and compassion in the face of trauma and grief. While the romance story is incorporated quite well, it is easy to see the Nikolai is not on equal standing as a protagonist in this novel. Though his story is also compelling, it is Ana’s that is more important and more prominent. Davenport is a masterful storyteller and beautiful writer, and I cannot recommend this book enough.