Monday, December 22, 2014

Book review: The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic by John Putnam Demos

The premise of this book was interesting. Back in the early 1800s in Connecticut, a group of people founded a "Heathen school" to both teach people of different nations (including Hawaiians and several Native American tribes, as well as an Indian, a New Zealander, and others from other countries) and more importantly, to convert them to Christianity. The school seemed successful at first and raised a ton of money and had some prominent advocates. However, when the converting didn't seem to stick (several Hawaiians in particular seemed to "go native" quickly when they returned home), things got rocky, and the school's fate was doomed when not one but two of the students (both Native Americans) ended up marrying young white women and causing a scandal.

I wanted the book to be fascinating but instead it was quite dry. It did pick up the pace in the second half with the scandal, and the very few, brief parts of the book where the author spoke personally of his visits to the pertinent areas were easy to read and smoothly written. But otherwise, it was a bit of a slog. In particular, there were long sections set apart in indentations like quotations, but I do not believe they were quotations, but instead were sections where he quoted liberally from documents which was awkward. And he just gave way too many details without enough action or movement. It was static and staid. I did learn some interesting facts about an odd little nook in our country's history, but I wish it had been written in a more accessible, less academic style.

I checked this book out of the library.

1 comment:

Shaina said...

Too bad it didn't work. Sounds like a fascinating premise.