★★★★★ In The Marijuanistas of Maui by Phillip M. Swatek Jr., a Yale graduate named Sam recounts his time spent in Hawaii growing and harvesting marijuana plants for profit. Sam is roped into the illegal enterprise by William, a charismatic native of Hawaii, who he had met while at college, and who masterminds a small portion of the islands’ drug-related agriculture. Over the course of their crops’ growth cycle, Sam experiences danger, fear, romance, and—owing to the backbreaking labor that goes into growing and hiding marijuana plants from government meddling—an undeniable sense of pride. After the drugs are harvested, Sam and William embark on a secretive journey to New York City, where they’ll seek to sell their product. Does wealth await the young men? Or is failure a more likely fate?
Highly atmospheric, The Marijuanistas of Maui is one of those stories you don’t realize you need to read until you actually read it. It is the perfect book to sink into while riding the final waves of late summer, shedding light on a portion of United States drug history that few are likely to know much about. With personable prose, Swatek suffuses his characters in a rosy glow, looking back nostalgically on what could perhaps be called a simpler time for marijuana growers, while tactically avoiding the fact that marijuana law has become a modern-day mire. Swatek’s novel is ethereal, with characters who make numerous references to Shakespeare plays and Greek myths, and somehow, over the course of the text, come to resemble godlike figures themselves, overcoming terrible odds in a world that ultimately doesn’t much care about their lives. Overall, the story makes great strides toward humanizing people working in the marijuana industry, which is something sorely lacking from our culture today.