Published June 27, 2007
East Wind, Rain is a provocative and lyrically told story based on a little known chapter in history. In her first novel, Caroline Paul weaves an elegant and inspired work of fiction from the true story of a remote Hawaiian island suddenly thrust into a conflict of nations and of national identity.
As the novel opens in December of 1941, we are introduced to the people of Niihau, a privately owned Hawaiian island just 16 miles from the island of Kauai, and yet completely isolated from the ways of the modern world. Mostly Hawaiian natives, the inhabitants of Niihau live simply, as they work for the island’s eccentric owner, in a strange and controversial feudal relationship. He does not allow phones, electricity, or even mail on his island, which he sees as protection for the islanders against the evils of contemporary society.
When a Japanese plane crash-lands on the island, the people of Niihau rescue the young pilot, having no idea that he has just attacked Pearl Harbor. What unfolds is a multi-layered story that evokes empathy for several different viewpoints – the Niihau natives, the conflicted Japanese-Americans living on the island, and even, at times, the downed Japanese pilot. Paul’s objective tone throughout the novel is one of her greatest strengths.
The author beautifully and carefully develops the main characters over the course of the novel. Irene and Yoshio Harada, the only Japanese-American couple on the island, have their loyalties tested and their American identities questioned, as they are the only ones that realize the significance of this visitor who dropped from the sky. Even before this incident, the couple struggles with their national identity; they do not feel Japanese, American, or native, which makes the decisions they face even more difficult and devastating. Convinced by the pilot that Japan has successfully invaded the United States, they must choose between being loyal to America - which has always been their home, but where they have been bruised by prejudice - or betraying their island neighbors to save themselves.