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on 25 August 2002
On moving into a new apartment a few years ago, I found this book left on a shelf as a welcome present. A note told me it was a "good read" though I was left untempted until I became ill a few months later. I read the whole book in less than two days and many times consequently.
It starts rather slowly with the description of Hawaii emerging as a volcanic entity. I actually enjoyed the first chapter more after I got to the middle of the book and read Chapter 1 again to refresh myself of the history that this island was built on.
The tale starts with the lives of those first pacific islanders and the worship of gods, idols and the volcanoes. The stories of this time are as fascinating and inextricably linked to the future stories of immigrants and struggle for identity that are found in the latter parts of the books.
I remember when I was a kid, seeing a film version of the missionary part of the story starring Julie Andrews and Richard Harris. However, being "Hollywood" it missed the even more fascinating second half of the book and the stories of the Chinese and the Japanese. It was a great dis-service to the book itself.
Michener, through excellent, visual and spellbinding characterisation, allows the reader to feel an intimate knowledge of the history of these beautiful islands.
It surveys the actions of the missionaries, hawaians, chinese and japanese through stories of economy-building, world war two, the position of the Japanese Americans, the awful stigma of leprosy, the fate of the original Hawaian Islanders and the mixing of all these peoples, albeit grudgingly on the part of some. The stories of the Americans , Japanese and the Chinese are fascinating in themselves even before they end up in Hawaii.
I am left with the belief that these people are real and that this is the real story of Hawaii. I am left furthermore with the feeling on having read the book that I know something about Hawaii that those who haven't read the book will never know.....
READ this book, it is fantastic.
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This vast, sprawling book is an incredible trip through the history of not just the Hawaiian islands but also provides insightful looks at both the history and mind set of each of the various peoples that over time have come to the islands, found them beautiful, and stayed, each adding another layer of richness to the already incredibly fecund soil that makes up Hawaii.
This is not the type of history you remember from your school days, dull and filled with irrelevant dates. It is instead a vibrant group of stories about some very engaging people, from Malama and Teroro of the early Polynesian settlers, to Abner and Jerusha Hale of the harsh, bitter school of Calvinist religion, to Char Nyuk Tsin and her sons and their sons, a great extended family with tentacles that reach across every business and social circle the islands have. Some of these characters are entirely fictitious, some are amalgams of known historical characters, a few are directly modeled on the individuals you can find in the history books, but regardless of their source or historical accuracy, you will find yourself totally engaged by them, fighting their battles, feeling their sorrow, enraged by their foolishness and arrogance, crying with their happiness. And along the way you will find that you have learned a lot about these islands and their history, and will end the book wanting to know more (what has happened there since this book was published in 1959?).
Many people seem to find the opening section on the geological history of the islands somewhat dull, but, in showing how the islands took shape via wave after wave of titanic and destructive eruptions, it provides a perfect counter-point to the later sections dealing with each wave of people as they arrive at the islands. And for those whose impression of this book was formed by seeing the Max von Sydow/Julie Andrews/Richard Harris movie, which was based on only one section of this book, "From the Farm of Bitterness", you will find that the movie is a very pale reflection of what this book has to offer.
If this book has a fault, it is in the constant optimistic outlook that Michener presents, both in terms of history and of people. But is it so bad to look on the bright side of things for a change? I ended this book with tears of joy, and I think you will too.
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Aloha! If you have never been to Hawaii, James Michener's Hawaii will entice you into going. If you have been to Hawaii, this book will show you what you missed while you were there.
Hawaii requires that kind of explanation. I remember visiting the orchid garden in Honolulu once. I thought I had seen everything and really enjoyed it after 30 minutes. Then a volunteer gardener introduced himself and asked me if I would like a tour. I naturally agreed, and in the next 2 and a half hours, I saw the garden for the first time. That is what Michener will do for you in this terrific novel about Hawaii.
Like all Michener novels, this one starts back millions of years ago with how the islands were formed and populated. You will get a great geology and history lesson in the process. Normally, you would probably not be interested in either one in a novel, but they are both very valuable to you as a tourist in the islands by adding to your knowledge.
The people in the story are full of passion for religion, acquiring material possessions, power and sex. Although the last is not explicitly described, lust plays a big role in the story. That seems as it should in a tropical paradise where warm weather and scanty clothing combine.
When you visit modern day Hawaii, you will see reminders of the founding families of modern Hawaii all around you. Hawaii will give you a sense of the histories behind the current power and business structure.
The book itself is written in a way that feels like you are sitting at a luau with someone telling you the story through a combination of traditional means (like the hula) and good campfire story-telling. It's almost like a trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center on the northern shore of Oahu.
Seldom do I wish that long novels (and this one is really long) would keep on going, but that was my wish with Hawaii. Even if the fiction were not based loosely on fact, it would have been an exciting and engrossing novel. The fact that the reality is a lot like the novel makes it all the more appealing.
Hawaii will hook you on Hawaii. That's good. We all need more of the magic of the islands in our lives. Leave your misconceptions behind about Hawaii being too far away. It can be right inside of you. Enjoy!
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on 12 August 2009
A Superb Book about a wonderful Place - my title says it all. Having been lucky enough to make two visits to the islands and visit the 4 main ones, I can honestly say it is the finest place on earth and the book especially the early parts go a long way to explaining how the islands are as they are today.

Michener is also an excellent teller of sagas and keeps you enthralled (and often appalled) during all 900+ pages.

Even he as a true American patriot finds it hard to excuse the behaviour of the clique of American pirates/adventurers who stole the islands from the Hawaiians and to give him his due he does not attempt to do so: nor to endorse the supine reaction of the US government of the time.

A timely read on this 50th anniversary year of Hawaiis statehood.
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on 17 October 2016
Purchased for someone else, they found this to be a good novel, supported by good research and plot. The price was OK given the size of the book re. postage etc.
Worth reading if you have the time!
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on 18 July 2013
This has been a lovely book to read. I have been a fan of James A Michener for years and this book is well on a par with his other classics such as "Alaska" and "Texas".

It is historical fiction rather than fact and I know that those who have studied Hawaii's history do not agree with the author that the original settlers came from Bora Bora. Nonetheless, Mr Michener absolutely captures the spirit of the land and it's people.

The device he uses to tell his sweeping, magnificent story is select a series of families representing each sector of Hawaiian society and follow them through the ages and the generations. He tells how it was for the original arrivals to the islands as well as all the immigrant groups such as the Chinese, Japanese and New England missionaries who followed them. One shares in their trials and tribulations, their triumphs and tragedies and through these interwoven stories one learns what Hawaii is all about.

A great book, highly recommended.
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on 17 June 2012
After reading Hawaii, I have to agree with those critics who say this is Michener's best novel. While he provides an historical overview of the island nation, spanning centuries, he doesn't let history get in the way of telling a wonderful story. More accurately, he tells wonderful stories within a story as he takes readers on an unforgettable journey, following the imagined lives of his central characters and their families as they strive to carve out a place for themselves in Hawaii.

The contrasting lifestyles and customs of, first, the Polynesian settlers and, second, the many nationalities who followed, makes for engrossing reading - from the early European explorers to the first Christian missionaries and then the influx of settlers from mainland America, Asia and Europe. Michener tells it like it is. For lovers of history, adventure and romance, Hawaii is compulsory reading.
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on 4 September 2014
This was a present for a friend who read it a long time ago and longed to read it again. She has searched for it ever since and really wanted to own it. She said it was one of the best books she had ever read and I was really pleased to see that it had been re-printed. She certainly loves it.
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on 14 December 2015
Fantastic book very worth reading
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on 13 December 2010
Having lived in the tropics for most of our lives, and now living in Europe,once the long winter months come around I need a bit of sunshine, so out comes Hawaii, to be re-read for the nth time. My old copy having fallen to pieces after so many years, I was happy to now have a new one so that when it rains and it is cold I can once again lose myself in its pages and smell the tropics and feel the sunshine. Great book!
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