Song of the Exile, by Kiana Davenport

Song of the Exile is an extraordinary, powerful, heartbreaking novel. It follows the lives of Keo, a native Hawaiian who burns to play jazz, and Sunny, a Korean/Hawaiian student, as they fall in love, are separated by the tides of World War II, and try to find each other afterwards. Through a series of events Sunny is taken as a comfort woman by the Japanese. Her experiences are utterly heartbreaking. Keo’s search for her is equally devastating.

The early chapters set in Hawaii are transporting. You can smell the flowers, feel the skin, hear the jazz as it pours out of Keo. Song of the Exile is a kind of crash course in Hawaiian history and culture, but not like a lecture.

”Too many guys with talent jumping on the ‘big ride’ — name bands, singing strings, all that college swing shit. I want jazz. I want to make sounds that don’t repeat, stuff that will vanish. Have crowds ripping their throats out for more. To get to that place, we gonna have to sacrifice a little.”

Woven throughout Song of the Exile is a homage to the birth and growth of jazz, and the path of Hawaii to statehood. Davenport clearly is a student and lover of jazz, and a virtual soundtrack buzzes behind the novel all along the way. (Below is a playlist of the music mentioned in the book; listen to it as you read the book and get a double history lesson).

That is the real definition, mon ami. Jazz is the sound of loneliness, human need. Jazz is the tongue of the exile…