“Being Menehune” by J. Arthur Rath III

Being Menehune

Written in the first person, “Being Menehune: My Journal” (2011) by Arthur J. Rath III is part fantasy and part historical dramatization, blurring the lines between fiction and biography. It’s about being seen, learning that every person has a purpose, learning who you are, connections between people, and the power of books and imagination.

In 1942, Arthur, a sickly former foster child who is an avid reader, meets Kahu, his Menehune mentor, and begins writing a journal about his life, his travels into Hawaii’s past, and what he learns. On Menehune Plain, he meets Miki, a leprechaun who speaks in Shakespearian rhyme; Per’fessor, an artist and teacher, and his beautiful wife Aiko; Queen Esther, who tells him about ancient Persia and the power of women; Ah Soong, who cooks and is a caretaker; and Rising Sun, who believes in Japanese superiority.

“During the past seven years I’ve learned to associate with those whom others don’t see” (page 12), Arthur writes at the grown-up age of 10.

With the help of time travel, magical mango (that help him read people’s thoughts), and invisibility spells, Arthur goes back in time to learn about old Hawaiian warfare, the Polynesian migration, the Menehune retreat from the human world, Hawaiian government and family life, Makahiki, Kamehameha I’s rise to power, and the destruction of the ‘iliahi (sandlewood) forests.

“Ah Soong, Miki, Rising Sun, other Menehune, and I are unnoticed in the human world. We watch and hear what goes on,” Kahu says. “Being invisible, Big Persons don’t know we’re present and, of course, don’t realize what we know” (page 43).

In his “real” life, Arthur writes about the effects of the Pearl Harbor attack on Japanese Americans, Confirmation, living as a foster child and being exposed to different cultures on the West Coast, interracial families, reading and imaginative play, interacting with solders based at Hospital Hill, being left on his own, and his grandfather’s quiet shame at being Native Hawaiian.

The narrative is whimsical, cerebral, and makes Hawaiian history and culture more relevant. Arthur’s adventures bring new life to Hawaiian history and historical figures. The ending feels abrupt and a little sad, with the realization that just as Arthur’s journey was starting, his grandfather’s dreams were ending.

Arthur is curious and inventive, absorbs everything, and is surprisingly self-aware and intelligent. Some of his vocabulary and observations are very mature for a 10-year old, and his sophistication sometimes pulled me from the narrative. The book is illustrated with detailed and intricate drawings by Paul Forney.

Read Rath’s blog, read more stories about Menehune, and find out more about his books at menehuneRATH.com.

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3 Comments on ““Being Menehune” by J. Arthur Rath III”

  1. Page Turner Says:

    Thank you a review that helps make sense of what might at first glance seem nonsense.

  2. arthurrath Says:

    Reblogged this on menehuneRATH.


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