Short-story collection reveals heaven in Hawaii
Lee Jacobus, professor emeritus of English at University of Connecticut, spent much of his academic career teaching and writing about Milton's "Paradise Lost," publishing a book in 1976 on the classic work of literature.
The Clinton resident recently published a book of short stories that he calls "a kind of 'Paradise Regained' on a personal note." The volume is titled "Hawaiian Tales: The Girl With Heavenly Eyes." Some of the stories were previously published in a limited edition collection, "Volcanic Jesus" (Hammonasset House Books).
The loosely connected stories were inspired by two trips to Hawaii Jacobus made with his wife, Joanna, in 2001 and 2003.
"My book addresses a modern concept of paradise, and, like Milton," he says, "I focus on the spiritual, religious and moral center of 'paradise' on the islands of Hawaii."
Jacobus says his stories are about people seeking some solace from religion and people who experience a spiritual joy in their lives.
"All my characters end their story with a profound insight into their own inner nature, finding sometimes a need to start over, and sometimes a need to pause and understand the meaning of life," he says. "They also find the joy and satisfaction that accompany the chance to renew themselves and be the person they discover that they need to be."
Many of the stories are about women.
"'The Girl With Heavenly Eyes' started it all," he says. "I've always been observant of women and responsive to their situations and circumstances. I met so many fascinating women in Hawaii."
Jacobus also loves the way the Hawaiian islands stimulate his imagination.
"In this sense (the stories are) unique," he says. "The other primary islands that I have spent a great deal of time exploring are England and Ireland, whose literatures I've spent my life teaching. And despite my familiarity and the richness of my experiences in those two islands, it is Hawaii, with its variety of peoples and a totally different way of life, that excited these stories from me."
In addition to reading about Hawaiian mythology and the history of the islands, Jacobus also studied guidebooks and the geography of the islands and spoke extensively with the locals.
"My method of travel writing is to wander, to improvise, to photograph everything, to talk with anyone who will talk with me, to never ignore anyone who wants to talk with me," he says, "and to observe as carefully as possible the place, time and circumstances in which I meet people."
At a certain point it is the characters in "Hawaiian Tales" that determine the direction the story is going to take.
"I start with the germ of an idea - seeing someone in a situation and seeing what happens, what the character is going to tell me about the situation," he explains. "Characters tell you what they're doing. It's beyond weird, but it's really true. Once you start writing, you can't push them around; they push you around. It's exactly how it works."
Jacobus gives one of his favorite stories, "Is God Calling You?" as an example of how the stories in the book developed.
"The germ of this story was a pair of storefront windows in Hanapepe," he recalls. "They were painted on the inside with what looked like the kind of paint used in grade-school classes. The figures were placed in a tropical forest, with faces looking out from behind huge fronds. They made me think of Adam and Eve in Paradise - an appropriate Miltonic allusion.
"That led me to wonder what might be going on inside," he continues, "but because it was a locked shop of some kind, I never really found out. I saw immediately in my mind's eye the telephones that 'connected' anyone who came by with the possibility that God was calling them. The story, after that, connected with a man I had seen near the Alawai canal in Oahu, and once that connection was made, the story unfolded as naturally as anything I have ever written."
Jacobus says what he hope readers will get out of his stories is an appreciation for the moral and spiritual resources of the islands.
"I hope they gain an understanding of what it means to survive in challenging circumstances and emerge in some ways victorious and richer with a sense of spiritual fullness," he says. "These stories are a testament to a people whose life is rich and who have a paradise within."
Hawaiian Tales: The Girl with Heavenly Eyes (Tell Me Press) by Lee A. Jacobus is $14.95, softcover.
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