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Unfamiliar Fishes

Unfamiliar Fishes [Kindle Edition]

Sarah Vowell
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product Description

From Puritans to heathens-Sarah Vowell takes on Hawaii in this New York Times bestseller.

Of all the countries the United States invaded or colonized in 1898, Sarah Vowell considers the story of the Americanization of Hawaii to be the most intriguing. From the arrival of the New England missionaries in 1820, who came to Christianize the local heathens, to the coup d'état led by the missionaries' sons in 1893, overthrowing the Hawaiian queen, the events leading up to American annexation feature a cast of beguiling, if often appalling or tragic, characters. Whalers who fire cannons at the Bible-thumpers denying them their god-given right to whores; an incestuous princess pulled between her new god and her brother-husband; sugar barons, con men, Theodore Roosevelt, and the last Hawaiian queen, a songwriter whose sentimental ode "Aloha 'Oe" serenaded the first Hawaiian-born president of the United States during his 2009 inaugural parade.

With her trademark wry insights and reporting, Vowell sets out to discover the odd, emblematic, and exceptional history of the fiftieth state. In examining the place where Manifest Destiny got a sunburn, she finds America again, warts and all.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 529 KB
  • Print Length: 233 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1594487871
  • Publisher: Riverhead; Reprint edition (22 Mar 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00475AYD2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #511,422 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Did The Missionaries Give As Much As They Took? 25 Feb 2012
By James Gallen TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
"Unfamiliar Fishes" is Sarah Vowell's history of how Hawaii became a part of America. Including, but not limited to the actual political take over, it presents the broad sweep of cultural transformation that preceded the legal one. On these pages one meets Kings and warriors, clergy and merchants, imperialists and nativists, Americans and true Hawaiians. Vowell draws on her Indian heritage in presenting the story from the perspective of the native Hawaiians in contrast to the Americans, primarily the missionaries, who brought the Gospel and their descendants who invited the flag. This book helps the reader understand how the natives cooperated in the gradual mutation of their Polynesian islands into a land that would be home, but no longer theirs.

Vowell's writing is irreverent and entertaining. This chronicles a history with which most Americans are unfamiliar. The author obviously is partial toward the natives and presents the reader with the question of whether the Americans, who brought Christianity, democracy and prosperity, really took more than they gave. The book's conclusion is obviously that they did. The reader should consider the facts and draw his or her own conclusions.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A real struggle 8 Nov 2012
By Cookie
Format:Kindle Edition
As a book club we decided to read "Unfamiliar Fishes", and I was excited to do so. I like learning about the history of places unfamiliar to me, and in that respect the book did not disappoint. What did disappoint, AND unsettle me, was the constant insertion of the author's personal prejudices. I do not mind personal opinion of bias, but this was heavy, negative and constant. The use of sarcasm, also, can be fun and add to a description, but again, it is overused. I struggled to even get half-way through the book and was glad when discussion of it was moved to a later date so I could intersperse my reading with more enjoyable works. One other thing...when using direct quotes from persons long dead, I don't think it is fair to add a personal bias, as you cannot possibly know the tone of voice when the quote was written or said. So usage of "moaned", "complained" etc is unacceptable, in my opinion, having read the said quotes. A shame that what could have been enjoyable and very informative was marred by negativity.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  147 reviews
130 of 137 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun & fascinating look at Hawaiian history 22 Mar 2011
By Peggy Tibbetts - Published on
On page one Vowell establishes a clever metaphor for the theme of this book. She is in Hawaii eating a plate lunch of macaroni salad and shoyu chicken under a banyan tree. What do they all have in common? The banyan tree, shoyu chicken, macaroni salad, and author are all from somewhere else. From then on, Vowell takes readers on a rollicking voyage back to 1778, when James Cook landed on the shores of Kauai and named the archipelago the Sandwich Islands, through the next hundred years as the proud warrior natives endured the mishmash of cultures as they exploded onto their shores. Whether it was clashes between the New England missionaries and the sailors looking for rum and prostitutes, or Great Britain and the US fighting over imperialism, the Hawaiian natives were always caught in the middle. However, as Vowell shrewdly points out, they were often willing participants in the demise of their ancient customs. Throughout this extraordinary history of the kingdom of Hawaii Vowell injects her usual wink-wink nudge-nudge style of humor which makes "Unfamiliar Fishes" a fascinating and fun read.
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brief yet enjoyable history of Hawaii 27 Mar 2011
By E. Jacobs - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Those who have visited Hawaii know that it has earned its status as a gorgeous place. However, outside of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the recent history of Hawaii is not something that comes up very often for mainlanders. This book provides an enjoyable lesson on the subject.

Sarah Vowell's oddball style of reporting is on display here as she broadly covers the history of Hawaii from the time the first Europeans stumbled upon it. She discusses some of the ancient culture and the clashes with the first missionaries to descend upon the islands from New England. The book culminates with a telling of how Hawaii was annexed to the United States through a joint resolution, since an annexation treaty failed to pass Congress after vehement protests by native Hawaiians.

There are admittedly some problems with this book in regard to the writing. At times, sentences seem to drift off and loop back around on themselves. There is also a hefty serving of fragmentary writing, and the transitions are not always easy to follow. However, if you stick with it, there is enough humor and insight to keep you entertained while learning something as well.

This book will probably not satisfy die-hard historians or those with very strong opinions on Hawaii's changes over the years. However, for the casual reader it's a great way to learn some of the history of this beautiful land, though it wasn't always a beautiful story. Some may not like the message, but it's a tale that needs to be told. In truth, this book made me feel plenty guilty for having been to Hawaii many times and not considering the steps it took for me to get there without a passport. I'm looking forward to another trip where I can investigate some of the sites mentioned in the book.

In summary, while Vowell's views on this subject are pretty obvious, she presents both sides of the annexation of Hawaii in manner that is rarely found in such an accessible book. While there are some problems with the readibility, these are outweighed by the humor and the plainspoken delivery of an often overlooked story.
39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hawaiian History 2 April 2011
By A&D - Published on
Sarah Vowell has written several books on American history and culture, and was a contributing editor for the radio program This American Life from 1996-2008.

In 1778, Captain Cook, the first European captain on Hawaiian shores, died on the Big Island, and that was just about the last time that Kanaka Maoli -- Native Hawaiians -- came out ahead in their interactions with the haoles (outsiders) who would soon inhabit their islands.

Many different groups came with different agendas: different missionaries came to tell about their religion to save the Hawaiians' souls, whalers came to visit the harbor towns, and sugar-cane plantations took their toll of the islands.

A reader who is not so familiar with the Hawaiian history can be lost in this story or the way that it is told. Sometimes, there is unnecessary telling of different museum visits or quotes of the tour guides, and sometimes just quotes of her friends like hula dancers, courthouse workers etc.

If you are interested in finding answers to topics like:
When did New England and Hawaiian cultures mix?
What happened when Western imperialism met tribal feudalism?
How did missionaries save the souls, minds and hearts, and gained the lands of the Hawaiian kings?

Sarah Vowell tries to answer these above mentioned questions. She also tries to make her readers understand the cultural complexities of Hawaii today.

It is not a coherent or simple story, but it is still worth reading if you are interested in Hawaii and its history. You just need to get used to the way the author writes, and if you like the way she writes, then you will like this book.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh and Learn 27 Mar 2011
By Nancy L. Mehagian - Published on
As Jon Stewart recently said to Sarah Vowell, the great thing about your book is that you laugh and learn. He was right. I find the history of the missionaries in Hawaii fascinating, having spent considerable time there. I chuckled all the way through this incredibly well-researched book.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History that goes beyond the consensus narrative 26 May 2011
By Alfred J. Neuman - Published on
This is the first book I've read of Sarah Vowell's canon, and I was very impressed both with the erudition and the writing style. I have visited Hawaii twice (and now realizing what a haole I was), but I'm just not interested in conventional history.

What I got from this book was valuable lessons about how the rich prey on the poor, how early the United States had dreams of empire, and how decidedly capitalism seems to overwhelm and reshape a culture.

The language and insights are remarkable and often funny. One of my favorite lines was about how Americans "imported our favorite religion, capitalism, and our second-favorite religion, Christianity" to the islands.

Vowell describes both the romance of monarchy as well as its abuses of power and tendency toward dissoluteness. She relates the story of New England missionaries who came to do good and did well, their sons ultimately overthrowing the monarchy and trying to abolish hula. She shows how Americans basically forced Hawaiians to change from a simpler, self-sufficient economy to one dependent on the monoculture of pineapples and their export to world markets in a cash economy.

All the while, Vowell is cracking the reader up with sly asides, such as "But if history teaches us anything, upper-class white guys can be exceedingly touchy about taxation." And, relating a story of how an American Mormon developed delusions of grandeur regarding himself and Hawaii: "He dressed in long white robes and called himself the High Priest of Melchizedek and tried to turn Lanai into his own private Waco."

I've never had such fun learning history since Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United StatesA People's History of the United States (P.S.). This is history from a humanized perspective, and the author is frequently a hysterical writer. I'd highly recommend this book.
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