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Hawaii (1959)

by James A. Michener

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,114482,969 (4.03)147
"[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 48 (next | show all)
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 |
As is typical of Michener's works, this was a long novel. While this is a novel, it attempts to tell the history of Hawaii by following several families through roughly 150 years the islands history. The first chapters explain how the islands were created by volcanic eruption and how later Polynesians crossed the Pacific Ocean from Bora Bora and Tahiti looking for new lands to settle.

The early outsiders who discovered Hawai were the whalers who came to the islands to resupply and enjoy the women. When the American missionaries arrived with their strict moral views, conflict occurred. Other chapters covered the arrival of American agriculture methods that demanded a great number of labourers thus immigration from China and Japan was encouraged. Hawaiians were deemed too unreliable as agricultural workers.

The novel moves through WW II and Pearl Harbour including the permitting of Japanese men to join the US Armed Forces to fight the Axis which they did with much honour in Italy and Germany.

On my several trips to Hawaii I had learned of the sugar companies involvement in the annexation of the Islands by the United States an action that many native Hawaiians have not forgotten or forgiven. ( )
  lamour | Aug 6, 2019 |
My first Michener did not disappoint. This is a sweeping account of the history of Hawaii up to statehood. Michener is surprisingly ethnically sensitive. He also does a good job of writing about how each group shaped the islands rather than the Great Man theory of history. ( )
  Seafox | Jul 24, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michener, James A.Authorprimary 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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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