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Behold the Many

A Novel

Lois-Ann Yamanaka


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ISBN10: 0312426542
ISBN13: 9780312426545

Trade Paperback

352 Pages



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Shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize

Lois-Ann Yamanaka has been hailed as "the freshest, most dynamic literary voice to come from Hawaii in recent years" (Somini Sengupta, The New York Times), and as "one of the most original voices on the American literary scene" (Jamie James, The Atlantic Monthly). In her novel, Behold the Many, Yamanaka tells the eerily beautiful story of three sisters and the captivating world they create out of their suffering.

In 1913, stricken by tuberculosis, young Anah, Aki, and Leah are sent away from their family for treatment at St. Joseph's, an orphanage in Hawaii's Kalihi Valley. Of the three, two will die there, in spite of the nuns' best efforts to save them, and only Anah, the eldest, will grow to adulthood. But the ghosts of the dead sisters are afraid to leave the grounds of St. Joseph's, where they wait until they can return home. As Anah prepares to begin married life away from the orphanage, they haunt her. Desperate for the love of their sister, who has communicated with them since childhood, jealous of her ability to live in the physical world, and terrified of losing her, they are determined to thwart Anah's happiness. One of them places a curse on her that will reverberate through the course of her future and that of her new family. While Anah struggles to appease the dead and to quiet her own guilt for having survived, it becomes apparent that only through one of her daughters can redemption be attained.


Praise for Behold the Many

"Yamanaka excels in the pidgin-style English spoken by these immigrant families, in lyrical descriptions of the Hawaiian setting, and in creating a mystical world filled with tortured ghosts seeking redress and peace . . . Within this patently different type of ‘love' story, Yamanaka has captured the essence of a little recognized group of Hawaiian residents who work this lush, beautiful land at a phenomenal cost."—Viviane Crystal, Historical Novels Review

"In this superb seventh novel from Yamanaka, the ghosts of children curse the living, and a young woman finds salvation in early-20th-century Hawaii. Anah Medeiros finds some consolation in being sent to St. Joseph's to recover from tuberculosis—she can comfort her young sisters Leah and Aki, already there. And at least away from home, she'll be safe from her brute of a father, a Portuguese laborer who molests her on drunken mornings, and she can escape her Japanese mother's decline into numb sorrow. Abandoned at St. Joseph's, the girls are beaten and berated by the nuns who deem them unclean half-breeds. Only Leah has some joy, in the form of ghostly Seth, a dairyman's son who died tree-climbing on the grounds. Soon, though, Leah dies, as does fierce Aki, leaving Anah alone, but not alone, as she is now haunted by a crying Leah, a violent, naked Aki, a silent Seth and the legions of children who have died at St. Joseph's, begging Anah to take them home, feed their hunger, find their mothers. Yamanaka creates a heartbreaking portrait of these ghost children . . . Anah finds a friend in Sister Mary Deborah, who teaches her everything about beekeeping, and Anah finds love in Ezroh Soares, Seth's brother. When she turns 18, Ezroh steals her away from St. Joseph's and into marriage, but Seth puts a curse on Anah that all her children will be girls and monsters. Yamanaka's magical story of Anah is also an uncompromising depiction of a hard immigrant life in Hawaii, of Chinese opium dens and Japanese laborers and Portuguese cowboys and whites eager to tame the lot of them. Finally, though Anah becomes prosperous in the beekeeping business, Seth's curse holds sway and Anah must sacrifice what she loves best so the crying ghost children can find their way home to God. Beautifully tragic, this should garner Yamanaka the wider attention she deserves."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Taking up her familiar themes-family, guilt, abandonment and the curses invoked by the dead on the living-Yamanaka's latest novel builds nicely on her previous, Father of the Four Passages. In 1913, sisters Anah, Aki and Leah are sent to an orphanage on the Hawaiian island of Oahu when they fall ill with tuberculosis . . . Anah promises her sisters that their mother and brother, Charles, will rescue them from the orphanage, but she is wrong: Leah and Aki die. As vengeful ghosts, Anah's sisters taunt and torture her for surviving and for what Aki terms her "lie" to them. With their parents' deaths and the disappearance of Charles, Anah remains cursed even as she attempts to go on. When Anah eventually finds happiness and marries, the chorus of voices from the dead extends the curse to her children. Only many years later-following much suffering and one horrifying event-does Anah find a way to appease the ghosts and to forgive herself. A cacophony of voices both living and dead who speak a variety of Hawaiian dialects spikes the narrative, but Yamanaka's beautiful, harsh prose and thematic vision unify this intense novel."—Publishers Weekly

"All of the ethnic groups who worked on Hawaiian sugar plantations in the early part of the 20th century-Japanese (mainly Okinawan), Chinese, Portuguese, and Hawaiian-were equally exploited. They lived in unsanitary conditions; worked long, grueling hours for low wages; and could not afford medical care or much of anything beyond subsistence. Yamanaka introduces us to a fictional family in just those circumstances, but worse. All three Medeiros daughters contract tuberculosis. Anah, the eldest, tries to give her sisters hope, but her promises can't stop the disease's progression, and Leah and Aki, brave as they are, eventually die. Even after Anah gets a chance to start over again, she has trouble finding happiness with her sisters' spirits in a state of unrest. Yamanaka lovingly describes how these fragile yet lively girls maintained their dignity and comforted one another. She wholly sympathizes with her resilient characters and will arouse this same compassion in her readers. Tender, poignant, and written in unadorned prose, this is a book to savor. Highly recommended."—Lisa Nussbaum, formerly with Dauphin City Library System, Harrisburg, PA, Library Journal (starred review)

"There is a traditional saying in Hawaii, the birthplace of the Japanese-American writer Lois-Ann Yamanaka: 'In the language is life, in the language is death.' Practical meaning: One's words can heal, one's words can hurt. In Yamanaka's vivid novel Behold the Many, her words do both, breaking our hearts and nursing them back to wholeness with the balm of her prose. Yamanaka's tortured characters take us through poles of illness and health, damnation and redemption, curses and prayers, and life and death in a dazzling display of language that reveals the author's roots as a poet. Her text sings with myriad cultural voices that have claimed their place in Hawaii's immigrant history—from European missionaries to Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese laborers, all rendered with their dialects and cultural idiosyncrasies. The result is a book as lush and complex as its setting . . . with impressive scope and emotional power . . . Yamanaka's dogged attention to details—particularly shards of beauty in the midst of terrible events—makes this novel wondrous and life-affirming even as it guides readers through the difficult territories of sickness, loss and death . . . Anah suffers many devastating words and events in the course of this novel. But in Behold the Many, one of our nation's most dynamic literary stylists forces us to stare wide-eyed into the pain until we can see the healing beauty hidden in its folds."—Tananarive Due, The Washington Post Book World

"Yamanaka delivers a powerful, three-dimensional portrait of an unfamiliar culture, and she creates a memorable heroine Dickens would've envied."—Paste magazine

"A mystical, magical, and, at times, macabre world unfolds in Yamanaka's elegiac tale of three sisters outcast from their family and society in turn-of-the-century Hawaii. Redolent with the island's lush and languid atmosphere, Yamanaka's richly atmospheric novel paints a chillingly spectral portrait of souls tormented by love and guilt."—Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

Behold the Many

Kalihi Valley
The valley is a woman lying on her back, legs spread wide, her geography wet by a constant rain. Waterfalls wash the days and nights of winter storms into the river...