International Examiner‘s Book Review
Loreen Lilyn Lee shares of pain, angst, and passion in The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir
Loreen Lilyn Lee, born and raised in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, is a Chinese American author currently residing in Seattle. In her book, The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir, the collection of memories comes sequentially in three phases but with some larger strides in between that may catch the reader off guard. Lee writes reflectively, almost as if she wrote the memories in a journal for herself. However, she does so thoroughly and externally, setting the scene of each story she tells with raw, detailed descriptions for the reader to observe her experiences.
Lee excels in balancing the personal aspect of the stories with her bravery to share them, making the reader feel comfortable with reading content that may be too intense or intimate otherwise. The book targets important issues facing Asian and Pacific Islander Americans (stereotypes, inequality, interracial relationships, etc.) and the fact that many of the essays included are from childhood and young adulthood leaves a shocking impact. Not only is the book personal to Lee, but the more you read, the more the book becomes a monologue and even a conversation with oneself, offering self-reflection.
Reading Loreen Lilyn Lee’s The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir, I felt as if I was walking down path of pinnacle moments in her life. The pathway is well lit at the beginning with childhood memories that hold brevity and sweetness. Some moments appear lighthearted: the image of her family with her father adorned in lei, her favorite childhood treats, her childhood curiosity.
As the journey continues, the road gradually darkens with the dawning of adulthood and trauma rising from the subconscious. Lee’s abusive childhood, sexual assault and rape (trigger warning), failed marriage and more. The memoir connects deepest with those interested in being encouraged to reflect upon their own, unique experiences of growing up as an Asian and Pacific Islander American or those who would care to gain more insight on an Asian and Pacific Islander American’s story.
Lee’s memoir in itself is a testament to her rise from a young, silenced Chinese American girl to an ever-fighting, ever-evolving woman. Just as “lava never sleeps” and continuously destroys unapologetically and rebuilds simultaneously, Lee is, as well, choosing life and love as she does so.
by Erica Cheung, published June 21, 2019
From the Back Cover
In The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir, Loreen Lilyn Lee poignantly details her struggle growing up in a traditional Chinese family in Honolulu, Hawai’i during the 1950s and 1960s, enduring both emotional and physical abuse. She’ll spend years trying to outrun her demons. Lee gives readers a glimpse into a time and place of transitions, and what ensues is a compelling story of revelation and acceptance, rich in culture and history. By finding the courage to tell her story, Lee has reclaimed her identity and the love for her Chinese and Hawaiian roots.
Gail Tsukiyama, author of Women of the Silk and The Samurai’s Garden
Lee gives us an insider’s view of a Chinese American girl growing up in 1950s – 1960s Hawai’i. Born in Honolulu to Chinese parents, Lee writes of being raised in a male-dominated household where she and her sisters take a back seat to their brothers, where father controls the family’s money and power, and where paternal control results in secrecy and emotional abuse of mother as well as children. Secrets are kept; and one of these is sexual abuse, its story threaded sensitively throughout the book. All the while, Lee dots the pages with Hawaii’s geologic history, lush and volatile. She tells us how Hawai’i’s land and history informed, and defined, the way she lives and experiences life. If you want to write a memoir, read Lee’s book. She shows us the way.
Esther Altshul Helfgott, Ph.D., author of Dear Alzheimer’s: A Caregivers Diary & Poems
Quiet, understated, and effective, Lee’s memoir exerts a calm but insistent pull on the reader. It clasps the reader’s hand with a gentle invitation to follow her as she examines her life, telling what had been left untold for so long. As she reconstructs her Hawaiian childhood and reflects on her adult years, she considers the effect of her Chinese family’s patriarchal and misogynistic traditions on both. The straightforwardness of the narrative belies the turmoil beneath the surface, her story like lava that flows gracefully while bubbling with heat. Her musings on what might have been, her reflections and analysis of her choices or lack of them, her awakening to her own needs and strength, and her appreciation of the full richness of her Chinese, American, and Hawaiian heritage make a rewarding read.
Donna Miscolta, author of Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories
Lyrical, gorgeous, a masterpiece of the place that is Hawai’i. And painful, insightful, the memoir of a Chinese American girl growing up in a rigidly patriarchal, deeply sexist society. Lee brings her compassionate eye not only to her childhood but to an intimate account of her womanhood both shadowed and enriched by her heritage. The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir will take its place as an important addition to the shelf on American experience.
Priscilla Long, author of Fire and Stone: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Poets & Writers Magazine Announcement, November 2018
“The Lava Never Sleeps is a memoir filled with strong prose and an ear for how the texture of a life can create music and meaning.”
Reginald Dwayne Betts selected The Lava Never Sleeps for the 2018 Willow Books Literature Awards Grand Prize