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Princess Ka’iulani and THE BONES OF TIME

In 1996, I published my second novel, THE BONES OF TIME, in which Princess Ka’iulani, Hawaii’s last princess, was a character.  Victoria Kaʻiulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiu i Lunalilo Cleghorn was her full name.  The daughter of Queen Lili’uokalani’s sister, and Archibald Cleghorn, who was Scottish, she was sent to England to be educated when she was thirteen, and traveled throughout Europe during her teens.  Famously, when Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1893, she visited the United States and met with President Cleveland to maintain the independence of her country.  There are still many Hawaiians who dispute what they see as an illegal theft of their land.  Princess Ka’iulani died in 1898 at the age of 23. 

I just went to Wikipedia to check out some of the facts, and I see that THE BONES OF TIME is prominently mentioned at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ka’iulani , particularly in relation to the slant that I took in my novel concerning the possibility that Ka’iulani may have been pregnant and died in childbirth. 

I get a fair amount of email from people claiming to be descendents of Ka’iulani who think that I have difinitive information about this.  If you are one of those who have contacted me about this, I apologize for not answering personally, but the volume is too great to do so.  This is my response. 

I write fiction.  Kaiulani’s life, within the novel, is fully as my extensive research indicated–except that I’m positive that she did not interface with a young Hawaiian mathematician named Century, in the late 20th century, via an infusion of one time within another.   The idea of her having been pregnant is fiction, as far as I know; nothing more.  I have no proof, no papers, nothing that would make me think that this is absolutely true.  I have only an aside, a mention, from someone who worked in the Bishop Museum, and I don’t even have their name. 

Here is how the process of writing the novel unfolded.  I lived in Hawaii 1960-62.  My father, Thomas Goonan (whose memoirs are featured in IN WAR TIMES, which won the Campbell Award and was the American Library Association’s Best SF Novel of 2008), was working for the Navy at that time.  One of his projects was developing the fire protection for the Arizona Memorial. 

Those years were magical, intense, transcendantly.  During that time, I immersed myself in not only European fairy tales, but in Hawaiian history and legends. 

In 1987, my husband and I moved to Hawaii.  At that time, my interest in Hawaiian history and legend reawakened, and I wrote the novella “Kamehameha’s Bones,” which appeared in Asimov’s, and which was the basis for THE BONES OF TIME. 

I began working on the novel seriously in 1993, when I got a contract from Tor.  We returned to Hawaii to do research.  I visited the Bishop Museum, and read Kaiulani’s diary and letters in the original, wearing white gloves and turning pages with a ruler.   This is a marvelously intimate act:  I could see her actual handwriting, on the original paper. 

While I was there, one of the staff happened to mention the rumor that Ka’iulani may have been pregnant and died not of pneumonia, but in childbirth.  There is actually some medical evidence that she may have had Bright’s Disease, which compromises the kidneys; Theodore Roosevelt’s first wife had Bright’s Disease (a term which stood in for a spectrum of nephrological disorders) and died in childbirth.  As a writer of fiction, I used this possibility in my novel.  

After THE BONES OF TIME was published, with its theme of Hawaiian Sovereignty, I found kind and generous friends of Hawaiian descent who were pleased at my strong and sensitive portrayal of Ka’iulani.  However, none of them agree with the idea that Ka’iulani might have been pregnant.  

I’ve referred some of the people who have sent inquiries to my friends, but the recent movie PRINCESS KAIULANI has accelerated these inquiries.  This post is to reiterate that I know nothing more than the rumor I was told at the Bishop Museum. 

That said, THE BONES OF TIME is a very good book, or so I’ve been told.  It was a Locus Bestseller in paperback, and was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in its British edition. 

It is out of print, but I sell it via my web page, www.goonan.com.  A link for orders is at the very bottom of the front page.  If you want it personalized as well as signed, please email me via the contact link and let me know the exact wording you would like.

I’d like to thank not only those who have read THE BONES OF TIME, but the friends I’ve made through the book for their support, love, and forbearance.

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6 comments

1 pashafromrussia { 07.30.10 at 4:41 PM }

it was very interesting to read http://www.goonan.com
I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
And you et an account on Twitter?

2 Kathleen Goonan { 08.14.10 at 11:51 AM }

Hi, pashafromrussia. Sorry to take so long to respond; this didn’t show up in my email box. Of course you can quote!

3 joann { 09.27.10 at 3:32 PM }

Hi,
I watched the movie of princess kaiulani, real touching and quite a movie i would say.. I was simply touched by it and i tell you it was quite a story of her life. I just want to know did she really was supposed to marry Clive in England or is that fiction as well

4 Kathleen Goonan { 09.28.10 at 9:34 AM }

Right now, I’m teaching two classes; next spring, ditto.

5 Kathleen Goonan { 09.28.10 at 9:39 AM }

I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can’t comment on Clive. The process of making the movie created an understandable uproar in the Hawaiian community for many reasons, but one of them was that Ka’iulani’s story and life were being distorted for commercial reasons.

6 Mark { 01.07.12 at 5:13 PM }

Thanks for taking the time to write this blog. I was one of those e-mails to you. I suppose your book was just at that right moment in time when that rumor was being batted around very seriously through one family. Whether these rumors can ever be proved is a completely different subject, but at least you know that your inspirational coverage of the historic figure in your work had some value beyond mere entertainment, but to at least show that a rumor exists….and to many I guess that is more than they would have ever hoped for. Is there a line of family members not recognized officially, the answer would appear to be yes, but then how this relates to your book is clearly a non-starter….but thank you again for this response!

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