The literary world has discovered a new talent. Alan Chin's debut novel, Island Song,
is a well-crafted exploration of relationships and spirituality. When ex-Navy Seal / ex-high
tech drone Garrett Davidson arrives in Hawaii to hide from the loss of his lover two years before
and write the grand story of their love and life together, he never imagines the transformation
that will take place in his heart and soul. Garrett immediately feels out of his depth in the
rhythm of island life, because he's a white outsider from the mainland who will be gone in six
months when his novel is finished. Garrett hopes to have it published at a major publishing house
and live the life of a successful novelist. Garrett also realizes that there is strong prejudice
among the islanders about "mahus," or gay men.
But Songoree, a native surfer and apprentice kahuna (shaman), who has come to be
Garrett's part-time cook and housekeeper, not only offers insights into island life but introduces
Garrett to his grandfather, who is the island's spiritual leader—and Grandfather has a
different plan for Garrett that neither he nor Songoree know about. Through Grandfather,
Songoree, big-hearted Mother Kamamalu, some island transplants, and many colorful locals,
Garrett begins to heal from the loss of his lover and discovers that he’s capable of doing much
more courageous acts than he ever did as a Navy Seal. The growing bond with Songoree and his
family draws Garrett into a world he never imagined.
The story is magical and deeply moving, and the characters were painted in broad strokes but
with a degree of humanness that made them very real. Alan Chin's own life mirrors Garrett's in
some ways. Both were in the Navy, though Chin wasn't a Navy Seal, and both worked in stress-ridden,
high-tech jobs. That lends a deeper level of authenticity to the writing.
Chin really tells two stories in the book. One is of Garrett and his dead lover, and one about
Garrett and his interaction with the island, its people, and its customs.
I thoroughly enjoyed Island Song. It is a tender and courageous story of loss and
redemption. Though there are gay romantic scenes in the book, they are handled with taste and
the sensitivity that graces fine novels. I also found the details of island life, the customs,
and spiritual aspects fascinating, with Chin never dropping into cliché.
The only problem I had with Island Song was in the beginning. It is written in first
person, present tense. That was hard to get used to because it's a very rare voice in novels.
However, by the time I was halfway through, I hardly noticed.
Alan Chin has completed another novel, Changi, which I hope will be available soon.