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House of Many Gods    by Kiana Davenport Amazon.com order for
House of Many Gods
by Kiana Davenport
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2007 (2007)
Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

This novel is thoroughly absorbing; it grips the reader in a vice and spits them out at the end, somehow with more compassion, more understanding and greater sympathy than before. Kiana Davenport evokes a sense of timelessness in her stories, interwoven with the creeping modernisation and dehumanisation that is today's society.

Ana (Anahola, after her mother) Kapakahi grew up on the big island of O'ahu, abandoned but not forgotten by her mother. Ana's childhood was lived as if in a dream, with numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins all crammed into one large house. The uncles were all battle-scarred vets from every recent war and the income was minimal; the house was dilapidated and run-down, but for all that was full of life and laughter. Ana didn't always appreciate this family she was angry with her mother and the world, driven to achieve, to prove herself to herself, to find herself through hard work. Her amazing drive took her through high school, through pre-med and on to a scholarship to medical school.

Nikolai Volenko was born at the other end of the earth, into cold and ice; he and his mother Vera were alone in the world, his father a victim of the Russian Soviet regime, condemned to a labour camp for a minor infraction. Like so many wives, Nikolai's mother trekked north, following her man, although never to see him free again. Once his father's death was confirmed, Nikolai and his mother made the long journey back to Leningrad, only to be separated forever when Vera was rounded up by the authorities and trucked away to some outlying area, like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan. Nikolai learned to live by his wits, reinventing himself as needed, joining street gangs, becoming whatever was needed to survive in the harsh environment that was the real Russia.

When Ana and Nikolai meet there is an odd attraction: Ana has never been able to commit herself to a relationship, perhaps too emotionally scarred by her abandonment as a youngster, or seeing numerous cousins, aunts and uncles without long-term partners through life. To live life fully Ana must learn forgiveness - of her mother, of herself and of her family.

Davenport's haunting tale is epic in proportions, although the book is not overly long. She brings us passion, evocative descriptions, and ultimately a clearer understanding of what we are doing to our planet and ourselves through our carelessness and indifference. House of Many Gods is a must read.

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