The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird is a novel told from two first-person point-of-view, switching from a child’s memories to a mother’s about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the aftermath. Not many World War II novels are told from the perspective of a child and a woman. This one does it beautifully.
By trading voices, Starbird allows first Marty, the daughter, to share her experience and then April, her mother, to tell her own, often complementing and contradicting one another, the stories belie the truth and yet sound honest. As Marty herself says, “memory is a subjective thing” (258). A careful reader will see many of ways in which the narrative perspective changes the meaning and details of different experiences. Because of this, I can see where this novel would make a wonderful reading group choice, where participants could point out the many different ways mother and daughter agree and disagree.
I loved the novel all the way until the end. To bring the story to some obvious closure, the author rushes things along and then allows things to become too convenient, even trite. After carrying the story along with a strong and conflicting mother/daughter relationship, it is an outsider who helps bring peace and healing. I am sure other readers will find it lovely but I found it a betrayal of the contract the author creates in preceding 80% of the story and an unforgivably easy-out. For me, anyway. Given the pages that preceded the last two sections—told by April and Marty respectively—I expected more from the author and this novel.