Letters from Hawaii Paperback – 30 Apr 1986
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About the Author
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), best known to the world by his pen-name Mark Twain, was an author and humorist, noted for his novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), which has been called "the Great American Novel," and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876, among many others.
From the Back Cover
So Samuel Langhorne Clemens made his excuse for late copy to the Sacramento Union, the newspaper that was underwriting his 1866 trip. If the young reporter's excuse makes perfect sense to you, join the thousands of Island lovers who have delighted in Twain's efforts when he finally did put pen to paper.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I would recommend this book to those interested in early Hawaiian, or even California, history and those who would enjoy some early Mark Twain. The subject matter jumps around a bit, as is the nature of this kind of compilation. The introduction by A. Grove Day is very informative and helpful for placing the readings in context. The reading is not always easy but usually entertaining.
The young Mark Twain is a character I hadn't met before. He was fresh from the goldfields and San Francisco -- and was fascinated by the beauty and grace of Hawaiian life. He wasn't Politicaly Correct in his view of the Native Peoples, but then - - seeing them as equals was not thinkable in the 1860s.
Nevertheless, his descriptions of songs, dances, chants, and especially hula are a valuable view of the authentic artistry. I have always questioned if hula and chants had become distorted during their periods of banishment by the Missionaries. I feared that what I saw at festivals today had been corrupted and "interpreted" by today's cultural masters.
Not to worry. What Twain described seems to be identical to what I see and hear today. The arts may have gone underground, but they were tended and cherished by genius.
A culture is termed "wealthy" if it has enough leisure time to develop a high art. By these terms, the Haida of the Pacific Northwest and the Native Hawaiians were as wealthy as any Aztec. They just didn't have metal to work with, and didn't need it, actually.
Twain went to visit Kilauea Volcano, then, as now, in eruption.
His enjoyment of social events, both high and low, make his stay in the islands what every traveller dreams of. He was enchanted.
Usually I pass on used books; but this one is a keeper.
Beverly in Honolulu
Letters from Hawaii provides a fascinating look at 19th century Hawaii -- the people, royalty, customs, culture, neighborhoods, infrastructure, commerce, government, volcanos, valleys, beaches, sea -- as well as a sprinkling of Mark Twain's inimitable humor. History buffs and Hawaiiana buffs will find Twain's first-hand, boots-on-the-ground observations of 19th century Hawaii uniquely satisfying.
I found almost every dispatch riveting. One that comes to mind now as I write this mini review is Mark Twain's account of his visit to the active volcano, Kilauea, on the Big Island, which he viewed both during the daytime and at night. In addition to Twain's powerful visual imagery describing the lava flows, he also interestingly describes the sounds of the volcano. "It makes three distinct sounds - a rushing, a hissing, and a coughing or puffing sound; and if you stand on the brink and close your eyes it is no trick at all to imagine that you are sweeping down a river on a large low pressure steamer, and that you hear the hissing of the steam about her boilers, the puffing from her escape pipes and the churning rush of the water abaft her wheels. The smell of sulfur is strong, but not unpleasant to a sinner."
Whether you are a Mark Twain buff, history buff, travel story buff, kama'aina or a malihini, chances are you will find this book enjoyable.