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July 28, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

VOLCANO: A Memoir of Hawai'i by Garrett Hongo (Vintage: $14, 339 pp.). As Japanese American poet Garrett Hongo traces his family's tangled past in a small town in Hawaii, he explores the challenge of maintaining an ethnic identity in America. The United States has often been a homogenizing vat, rather than a melting pot, and Hongo wants to pass the family history on to his own children. Writing with a poet's grace, he recounts his expeditions through the forests and lava fields where his ancestors walked. The insights he gains enable him to celebrate both the land and his heritage: Standing in the rain, Hongo declares, "I flung civilized scorn on the wet grass outside the cottage and began to sing in my own flesh, reeds in my bones, passion like an owl whooing from the dank hollow of a tree."

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