on July 24, 2001
This book was not the Michener perspective I was expecting. While vacationing in Hawaii I wanted to learn more about the islands and its fascinating history that had been described to us by a flamboyant kayaking guide. He spoke of the inter-island wars and various ritual grounds throughout the islands - what was mana and kapu. The first book I had read of Michener's was Centennial, which illuminated the American Indians and the first explorers and seemed to balance the two different societies. Ten years later reading my second Michener novel, Hawaii, I realize he is not as fine a writer as I remember.
Hawaii proved to be far inferior to Centennial and spent a great deal of time on the missionaries and their unfortunate forceful conversion of the native Hawaiians. The book started out with the painful and violent uprising of the Hawaiian volcanoes. The main characters started out around 900 C.E., with Teroro of Bora Bora leading the first expedition to Hawaii. This portion of the book was what I expected and I felt like I learned a great deal during these first two chapters. However, Michener inexplicably skips ahead to the 18th century and the proselytism of the Hawaiian natives. It felt as if the thousand years he skipped over were insignificant, which I found disappointing.
The missionary conversion and importation of various Asian societies seemed to drag on a bit too long. I did find the American corporate coup d'état of the Hawaiian monarchy interesting, but it dragged on endlessly; and then the bombing of Pearl Harbor was hastily written. Further, even though it is a 1000 page book and mistakes are expected, I found way too many grammatical and spelling errors throughout. The book ended on a better note with the notion of the Golden Men and a new age of tolerance, but I was looking forward to finishing the book - definitely not a great book, try Centennial instead.
on July 27, 1999
Like all of Michener's books, which are considerable in number, Hawaii was educational more than completely enthralling. Michener does not create true literature, instead he generates literally thousands of cardboard cutout characters that move around and sometimes even bump into each other in exact replication of actual historical events! Think of a very colorful and detailed diorama with factually accurate period pieces and almost lifelike wax figures representing important events in history. It is sometimes pleasing to the eye, and it is always informative, but storyline and characters rarely rise above the level of a daytime soap opera. This same criticism could apply to virtually all of Michener's historical works.
on April 3, 1999
Everyone told me that the book would be exciting, tremendous, thrilling and vivid, yet when I started reading I felt that Michener was dragging the story, not giving any progress, not letting the reader hold on to something, it was very frustrating to read the first 10-15 pages. After that chapter I was waiting for some improvement. The improvement came yet the second I felt I was connecting to the characters the book jumped forwards some 200 years. The book isn't written in an organized way and I am sorry I hadn't enjoyed it as much as some of the people who wrote other reviews.
on January 7, 2004
This book is among my favorites. I hate to say but I have read most or many of his books about 20 years ago, then I re-read them again from time to time. I always have found them to be entertaining and educational.
Michener's books use a common plot formula. They start out by telling a story that in some way utilizes (accurately) the actual or known historical developments of a specific geographical region - in this case Hawaii. It follows the real time lines and people of a region. In the present case it is about a group of people that came by open boat from southern islands in and around Tahiti bringing plants and other things up to Hawaii. It progresses through the development of the islands adding in more characters and a more complicated plot as time moves forward.
When I decided to review this book I was not certain if people were still interested in buying this book. I was pleased to discover that there is still a lot of interest at Amazon.com in this great south sea tale.
Good read and a good gift. His series is excellent and perhaps this is his best work.
Jack in Toronto
on July 14, 2003
I really enjoyed this 40+ year old book (classic?) by James Mitchener. I was spellbound and kept turning those pages late into the nights.
I thought his discussion of the Chinese Hakka woman, the queen mother of the successful Chinese on the islands, to be very interesting and representative of that ethnic group. However, I did have a problem with this woman, particularly at 90+ years old, going through the intricacies of tax loss carry-forwards. The internal and external dialogue was a little out of character.
But Mitchener is one of the great masters. I highly recommend this book if your going to Hawaii, if you just want an adventure story, or if you want to read about how different ethnic groups learned to muddle along together. There's a ton of supporting detail that is quite interesting to read, and the book felt that there was nothing extraneous. The pace was very quick and the characters interesting. It was easy to visualize the story as it unfolded.
Sugar Land, TX
on March 18, 2003
This novel has so many different parts to it that it is hard to describe it succintly. First, there are the two traditional aspects present in all Michener novels, history and romance, intertwined to give the reader first hand knowledge of what history felt like to the people enacting it and the bystanders.
In Hawaii, Michener continues this tradition by creating some of his most memorable characters and driving the reader to understand them and their interactions with each other. I believe the anthropological aspect of this novel makes it superior to other Michener novels that focus simply on history and romance. We see vividly the interactions between missionaries brought to convert the natives and the Hawaiian people; it is often humorous, sarcastic, and even sad.
Overall, Michener readers will enjoy this one as a quintessential Michener book. Non readers, or new inductees, may also enjoy the anthropological side of this book, as it not only explores the history of the people, but analyzes in depth the changes that face them until modern days.
on January 28, 2003
Michener, the supreme storyteller, created some really memorable characters in this monster of a novel. The genre of blockbuster historical novels can seem somewhat dated (viz. the mammoth novels of Mitchell, Ferber, McCullough, Caldwell and Follett) but they are definitely delicious if you get a taste for them. Dated or not, Hawaii is a gripping tale of not-so-angelic missionaries, struggling immigrants and early Polynesian settlers. The characters are absolutely unforgettable.
I particularly liked the section of the book where the missionaries run headlong into the traditions of the Polynesian people, whether insisting they wear confining clothing in the tropical heat, or that they should quit their charming and practical tradition of dancing, swimming and surfing in the buff. The missionaries stubbornly eat dried apples shipped to them across the sea, and scorn the richly nutritious native fruits and vegetables unfamiliar to them. They wilt in their long underwear, donned by the season. They try hard to bring a foreign world to their religion in the belief it will benefit the people, but when two vastly different cultures clash, it is inevitably tragic. Michener writes about this clash in vivid, sometimes shocking detail.
This book has been filmed, used as a basis for a musical but nothing compares to reading the original. I couldn't put it down.
on March 13, 2002
I had my doubts about this classic at first. At over 1,000 pages, opening with an almost painstakingly slow account of the birth and evolution of the Hawaiian Islands in prehistoric times, it seemed ripe for pretentiousness. Was I ever wrong! The great James Michener knew and loved the islands, and it shows throughout this sweeping fictionalized history of our 50th state.
Dividing the novel into five historical eras ranging from the 9th century AD to the mid-1950s, Michener creates an amazingly detailed look at the evolution of Hawaii as we know it today, the people who created it, and the lands they came from. Through a diverse collection of characters, some of them based on real historical figures, we see both the good and the bad sides of the islands and their people. Michener doesn't pretend it was a painless evolution; his accounts of the Americanization of Hawaii are brutally honest about the greed and intolerance that played into it. From the anti-hero missionary Abner Hale, whose well-intentioned piousness caused more problems than it solved, to his more business-minded friends and descendants, Michener sees the first Americans in Hawaii as noble but ultimately selfish and often racist. The Chinese who came to Hawaii are cast in a somewhat more pleasant light, as personified by peasant concubine Char Nyuk Tsin, who literally builds a family empire from nothing in true American Dream fashion. (The account of her salvation of Hawaii's leper colony is perhaps the book's most harrowing chapter, but also its most inspiring in a way.) The later arrival of the Japanese and the persecution they suffered before and during World War II is also illustrated brilliantly; this was surely close to Michener's heart when he wrote the book, not long after the war. Although the final chapter, describing the evolution of a uniquely Hawaiian people, is somewhat less developed and convincing than the rest of the book, Michener's optimism for racial harmony after years of its absence is pervasive all the same.
Although the book is fictional, it's nonetheless a very realistic look at a land most of us think of as a paradise, as well as a rare look at the very American side of our most unique state. With a long and interesting story and consistently remarkable character development, it's sure to hold your interest no matter how long it may take you to read it.
on December 28, 2001
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.
on December 20, 2001
Parts of this book really made me mad. I love a Hawaiian and I was so angry reading about the way Hawaiians were treated by the missionaries and other Americans. In fact I put the book down rather than continue to read about those fool missionaries, but my dear Hawaiian told me to keep reading.
The book is organized in waves - the wave of Bora Borans coming to Hawaii, and why they came. The wave of missionaries bringing their damn fool ideas but still doing some good by eliminating human sacrifice in Hawaii. The wave of Chinese and why they came. The wave of Japanese from Hiroshima. And finally the closing section about post-war Hawaii. I would have liked another section about the wave of Filipinos and Puerto Ricans, but they aren't in the book. Something about Hawaii makes me think in terms of waves...
My favorite part of the book is the Bora Borans. It is the only part that doesn't bother us with those damn missionaries and their annoying descendants. I think it was the author's intention to have the readers despise these missionary descendants. You can tell just by their repetitive names. Every damn one is named Whipple Janders Hoxworth Hale.
James Michener is a storyteller, not a historian. In this book you can see that he is also a Republican-hating Democrat, which isn't a bad thing to be, not that the Democrats are anything to brag about. There are many people to despise in this book, many people who strain your patience. In fact, the one point that other reviewers on this site seem to have missed is that the characters are usually infuriating, annoying, stupid.
The star of the book is probably the Chinese lady Char Nyuk Tsin who was a kind of Mother Teresa to the lepers and also a canny business woman running a family empire. But the most lovable characters are the Hawaiians, like Teroro, Marama, Kelolo and Malama.
As far as plot is concerned, there are two stories that stand out. The leper colony is an excellent section. So is the Bora Bora tale. The weakness of the book is that so much time is spent on the business shenanigans of the missionary descendants and immigrants. Business just isn't that interesting.
James Michener is a good storyteller but his books sprawl and meander all over the place, keeping them from being really great.