The Lava Never Sleeps
Author Loreen Lilyn Lee
by Julie Carpenter
A Note from the author: I love interacting with readers and would love to meet with book groups. Contact info is on my web site. And thirdly, since travel is restricted these days, I encourage destination-reading! Books are a great means to "getting away" safely.
It has taken me some time to write this review, because this is a book to savor. I’ve reread several chapters simply to enjoy the language, and several more to think about the spiritual connections the author makes. There is even a chapter devoted to food that feels more like poetry than prose.
This is a story that begins in Hawai’i in the 1950s and 1960s and, though the story moves with the author as she travels throughout the world, it somehow never leaves Hawai’i behind. It’s a story of finding home by coming to terms with the past, a story both universal and grounded in the context of every place the author goes. At its heart is always the beauty and abundance of the islands.
The concrete details of Lee’s upbringing and life in Hawaii in a male-dominated Chinese immigrant family are poignant. Lee pulls us in, telling the story of her own life – a life that was often stifling, sometimes abusive – with grace and forgiveness, both for her family and herself.
She doesn’t hold back as she searches her past and present for her own identity and potential, learning who she is and making sense of her repressive upbringing and a sexual assault she experienced as a child. Lee allows the reader in as she unravels the narrative of her own life, confronting the bars that held her in place, and finding that she had created some of them to protect herself from pain.
Drawing on her life in Hawai’i, the land that mothered her, the author weaves together myth, the power of the goddess Pele, the living mountains of lava that continuously create the land, and her own power. Her story is also the story of Hawai’i and how it continues to nourish her, even when she is far away from it.
The book is powerful and nuanced, a clear-headed look at who Lee is and how she found the strength to give birth to herself. It doesn’t spare the details of her search for meaning and spirituality, never shying from mistakes and dead ends. There is no glossing over missteps or hard times. The prose is clear and often heady with the scent of the islands, but Lee is a master at describing her connection to the landscape wherever she goes from the desert to the American Northwest, making it all part of who she becomes.
All in all, this is a beautiful book, well worth the read. Like all the best books, I came away considering not only Lee’s narrative, but my own, considering how the green hills of Tennessee shaped me. It was as though reading her memories caused my own to bubble up. I remembered picking blackberries in the thickets and eating so many instead of collecting them for jam that I got scolded. I remembered sitting in the heat snapping beans, eating fresh corn on the cob, and collecting warm, newly laid eggs for breakfast. I remembered the crisp autumns, summer rains, and the occasional beauty of the snow-covered hills.
This book is a powerful reminder that we are part of the earth that shaped us, that we come from specific places that shape our lives no matter where we go, that we are part of families that both nurtured and failed us. It is a reminder that we must find ourselves for ourselves as we move forward with grace towards forgiveness.
You can enjoy The Lava Never Sleeps, both as a connected narrative or enjoy the chapters as a collection of lyrical essays, each with some deep key at heart to ponder. This book is highly recommended.
Julie Carpenter is the creator of the Sacred Chickens website and Author of Things Get Weird in Whistlestop. She is dedicated to telling stories and making sure that indie writers and publishers have a way to be heard. She uses narrative, her own and others’, to help interpret the world. She has a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Memphis, with an emphasis in Composition Theory. She wants to bend reality one story at a time. Julie’s work has appeared in Fiction on the Web and will be included The New Guard. She is currently working on a novel and starting a podcast where people can tell her about their weird ideas.