Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review: Hawaii by James A. Michener

What else should you read while on a tropical island? I started this book last month while in St. Croix. (I know, wrong island, wrong ocean.) I like to bring a chunky mass market book, something relatively lightweight (obviously, not physically) on vacation. A lot of my friends like Michener and I wanted to find out what the big deal was.

The book wasn't what I expected. I was hoping for a saga, with forbidden love, a horrible secret, family vendettas, etc. This has none of that. Instead it is as if he's telling the entire history of Hawaii--and I do mean entire because he goes back to before the islands were even islands--as a novel. And while I enjoyed parts, the whole just didn't work for me.

I loved the first section, with the people from Bora Bora leaving that island to find this mythical island. It was exotic and mysterious and we weren't sure if they were going to succeed. And just as I was really getting invested with Teroro and Marama and the rest of them, they disappear and are replaced by the horribly boring Abner Hale and the missionaries. Ugh. We get their story for way, way, too long. And why focus on the most uptight, rigid, uninteresting missionary? From then on the narrative doesn't jump around in time much, but it does shift to following first a Chinese family that comes over to be farm workers, and then a Japanese family that also are imported to be farmhands. The story gets bogged down a lot with details about politics, pineapple propagation, and real estate. And it becomes very confusing because apparently the five or so "founding families" (read: white Americans) of Hawaii have never thought about any other names than the names those original missionaries had. So we get generation after generation with all the same names, and also they intermarry, making it more confusing! Not to mention, almost none of them have any personality traits.

And then about 3/4 of the way into the book, I was shocked at the unexpected use of the first person! It came up again just once or twice over the next several hundred pages, until the last two pages when it was suddenly revealed that the narrator was one of the characters, inexplicably writing about himself in the first person. Also, that narrator would have no way of knowing many of the conversations he recounted, particularly in the Bora Bora and Japanese and Chinese parts. That made no sense to me.

I certainly didn't hate it. It's well-written, overly researched, and parts I enjoyed. But it was ponderous, at time tedious, and I slogged through to the end.

I bought this book at my local used bookstore.

1 comment:

Kay said...

Ah, that's Michener. I did not read this one, lo the many years ago that I did read a book or two by this author. I think I started it once, but then got to the missionaries. Lord, how tedious they were.

I think pretty much all of this author's books were epic histories of whatever area he chose to write about. If you didn't want to know about Israel or Colorado or the Chesapeake Bay area or Texas, well, that's too bad. LOL

I did read TEXAS and SPACE as both were set in my home state and I was interested. I might have read the Chesapeake Bay one and I had friends who really liked THE SOURCE, set in Israel. But, James Michener was no Diana Gabaldon. Loved your review!!