Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Welcome to A.J. Llewellyn's guest blog
Kiana: What Prince, Romance?
By A.J. Llewellyn
It’s happened to most of us who love books. At some point or another, we lose a cherished book. For me, it was a copy of Pearl S. Buck’s Dragon Seed, confiscated by my Science teacher when she discovered me reading it, hidden inside the pages of a text book. I was sixteen. It took years for me to find another copy and I did finish the book, but it got me thinking these last couple of days since I took on a job evaluating the worth of my friend’s grandma’s library.
She has some beautiful books, to be sure. I know she prizes them but needs to sell due to the economic downturn. I began the process by removing the books that have no value. Some we can’t even donate to the local library, for example Mary Higgins Clark books, Dan Brown and anything by Danielle Steel. These might be popular authors, but their books wind up on the free carts in libraries. There are just so many of them.
I’ve also have already removed the Readers’ Digest books since they are worthless (due to being abridged and again, copious in volume). Libraries can’t sell them at their book sales.
I was astonished that high on some old shelves were some genuine gems. Whilst comparing prices online, I realized some of my client’s books are worth a fortune. One book, The Rain Girl: The Tragic Story of Jeanne Eagels, a biography of an actress from the 1920s, stumped me. I was surprised to learn she died of a heroin overdose at the age of 39 in the midst of a controversial acting career.
I’d never heard of her and I love old movies and movie stars. I was further surprised to learn that Jeanne Eagels was the first actress to be nominated posthumously for an Academy Award (The Letter). The book is almost impossible to find and written by Edward Doherty in a racy, journalistic style (The book is a First Edition from 1930) I sensed that it was worth something and I was right.
It most recently sold for $400 at an auction site.
Then my hand fell on a real find.
I was pleased to see it was Kiana: A Tradition of Hawaii, the first-ever romance novel to come out of Hawaii. Written by James Jackson Jarves in 1857, I swooned when I saw this copy in person. It’s impossible to find and I knew, this first edition would be extremely expensive.
Though some libraries have a copy available for view in their buildings, there are recent reprints available of it, none of them cheap.
The original and rare book starts at $650.
Considered culturally vital, I was stoked that Kiana, a book labeled romance is so highly prized.
In this age when authors’ works are treated with such disdain that people upload them for free, “file-sharing” with millions of people, that a romance novel is still so valuable tickles me.
James Jackson Jarves was a scholar and artist who spent some years in Hawaii. He edited the first Hawaiian newspaper, The Polynesian from 1940 to 1948. His books, particularly Kiana, were and still are considered culturally and historically essential reading. They contain scenes of Hawaiian life of which, little else exists today.
I found myself during my lunch break, turning the delicate pages of this book gently with my white cotton gloves. I tried so hard to read as much as I could. I was back again, in Mrs. Elwing’s science class, sneaking my literary thrills where I could, stalling with each bite of my salad before having to return it to the shelves.
I loved that Mr. Jarves dedicated his book to the Hawaiian King at the time, Liholiho (which itself means rare and precious), King Kamehameha IV. Like me, Jarves’s love affair is with the islands…and this has perhaps lent such a mystique and allure to the story of Kiana.
The language is sheer poetry yet easy to read. It’s the voyage of a young man in love with life…and a certain island girl.
I wonder if Jarves had any idea how important his story would become? I wondered how many young men read this book, unable to forget it?
As I put Kiana on the sell shelf with the index card tucked in its front pages, I couldn’t resist holding it one last time, taking another look at the engraving on the inside page with the slip of fine rice paper protecting it. The dedication to King Liholiho touched me: To His Majesty Alexander, Liholiho who now worthily fills the throne of the Hawaiian Islands as Kamehameha IV, this tradition of his Kingdom is respectfully inscribed.
It’s especially tragic, considering the fall of the Monarchy a few short years later and the almost-complete disappearance of this sacred work.
I still don’t know what to say about what happened next. I think I am in shock. My friend’s grandma gave me the book. She insisted I should have it. I cried on the spot. Am I gay, or what?
But Kiana has found a home, with a man who loves her and will look after her. And I will never, ever hide her in a textbook. She has become the standard for which all other romances must aspire.
What about you? Is there a romance novel that affects you like this? Leave me a comment and the most original gets a free ebook from me.