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Hawaii (1959)

by James A. Michener

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,156503,007 (4.03)149
"[A] mammoth epic of the islands, [a] vast panorama, wonderful."THE BALTIMORE SUNAmerica's preeminent storyteller, James Michener, introduced an entire generation of readers to a lush, exotic world in the Pacific with this classic novel. But it is also a novel about people, people of strength and character; the Polynesians; the fragile missionaries; the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos who intermarried into a beautiful race called Hawaiians. Here is the story of their relationships, toils, and successes, their strong aristocratic kings and queens and struggling farmers, all of it enchanting and very real in this almost mythical place.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Excellent as always

I loved the history combined with vivacious characters. Unfortunately Michner only gave female characters little credit.. ( )
  Chrissylou62 | Aug 1, 2020 |
Poorly written, particularly as the book meanders on (show, don't tell); and while the earlier segments on the indigenous Polynesians, the missionaries, and the Chinese were interesting, the portion on the Japanese was trite and cliched. (In fairness, the sympathetic portrayal of Japanese-American WW2 soldiers' patriotism may have been more interesting in 1959, when hostile wartime memories of Japan were current.) ( )
  CurrerBell | Jul 27, 2020 |
A vital book for almost 1000 pages. Then, the last part kicks in. The "current" story is lacking, when compared to the rest. Michener was so caught up in contemporary Hawaiian and American politics that he allowed the epic sweep of his novel to dwindle into a preachy sermon on the brotherhood of man, while focusing on his devotion to the Japanese in the Islands. This book deserves a more memorable ending.

Yet the novel is a great work of historical fiction. A few notations:

* Michener makes great use of James Frazer's The Golden Bough, a mammoth study of worldwide religions, myths, and social institutions--although I would assume, like most of us, he probably made most use of the abridged edition, which nonetheless reaches to nearly 900 pages (much like a Michener novel). What is really important, here, is the research and application of the tabu themes which drive through the heart of Hawaii. For as one ruling elite loses its mana and fades from history, a new one (the missionaries and their descendants) arises in the old one's place. The interwoven politics and incest of the ruling alii nui are their fatal flaws. But the missionaries down through the next 130 years make the very same mistakes, become a stifling inbred clique that is eclipsed by the rising generation of Chinese and, especially, Japanese who will seize power in the 1950s.

* Abner Hale brings both sides of the missionary impact on Hawaii to light. On the one hand, he provides for a stern system of law or order designed to protect the native Hawaiians from the American whalers, who rape, pillage, and destroy everything they come in contact with. This same fanaticism, his belief system, however, also serves to destroy the native culture and separate Abner from everyone he cares about, from the alii nui, Malama, to Abner's wife, Jerusha, and their children, from his fellow missionaries to the native people he cares about, Keoki, Noelani, and Iliki. At the end, Abner is left a lonely man, barely tolerated by those around him.

* I would say that Michener's descriptions of combat were the weakest aspect of the novel but for the fact that just a while later arise the descriptions of people singing and playing music. Describing music on the written page is a futile task at best; with Michener, it is a calamity far exceeding the simplistic images of battle and war. At least I remember the war passages, the several pages devoted to describing music are an utter blank.

* With a publication date of 1959, Hawaii's writing probably was not influenced by the 1959 film, Ben Hur. Still, the description of life in the leper colony sure does seem similar to the scenes of Ben Hur's family's banishment to a Roman era Judean leper colony. Probably a coincidence, I'm sure. Or maybe a Jungian moment of the collective unconscious arising to produce the same images for two disparate projects.

I like Michener. I like this novel. It is the natural outgrowth of his two earlier books on the Pacific, Tales of the South Pacific and Return to Paradise, especially the latter, where he first experimented with the type of geographic preface that also constitutes the first chapter of Hawaii.

I doubt Michener has any peers but James Clavell. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
Watch out for leprosy. ( )
  LindaLeeJacobs | Feb 15, 2020 |
What an epic! This told the story of Hawaii from its formation by volcanoes to settlement by the people of Bora Bora and Tahiti through Statehood in 1959. I learned so much history. I was surprised at the hatred the Chinese had for the Japanese and visa versa. Both groups and the whites had the same hatred for the native Hawaiians. I was also surprised to learn that the genealogical history of the Hawaiians was only about 20% Hawaiian and the rest Chinese, Japanese and the descendants of missionaries as many of the native Hawaiians were killed off by measles or influenza. Very informative chapters on the Molokkai leper colony, too. A tad boring near the end with the politics of statehood. This rounded out the story for me as I had visited Hawaii in 2017. Great read! I used both audio and paperback for this read. 936 pages ( )
  Tess_W | Sep 27, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michener, James A.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lorch, FritzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Millions upon millions of years ago, when the continents were already formed and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others.
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"[A] mammoth epic of the islands, [a] vast panorama, wonderful."THE BALTIMORE SUNAmerica's preeminent storyteller, James Michener, introduced an entire generation of readers to a lush, exotic world in the Pacific with this classic novel. But it is also a novel about people, people of strength and character; the Polynesians; the fragile missionaries; the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos who intermarried into a beautiful race called Hawaiians. Here is the story of their relationships, toils, and successes, their strong aristocratic kings and queens and struggling farmers, all of it enchanting and very real in this almost mythical place.

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