"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.
on 8 November 2012
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.