Sunday, May 15, 2011

Books I'm reading 33 - Unfamiliar fishes by Sarah Vowell

This is probably the most interest-maintaining books about the development of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the eventual overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy that I've ever read.

As part-Hawaiian and living in Hawaii, I grew up learning many these stories in school or as part of the general community knowledge that one just picks up, but I've never had the chance to view this history with the combination of outward objectivity and deep archivists interest that Sarah Vowell has.

It's not surprising that she brings a particular viewpoint to things that slants the story in a particular way; what is surprising is how well she blends a sympathetic and empathic caring for the history of the islands with a sort of comedic self reflection that makes the history of these islands gel into a personal story.

And to be honest, not all of this was stuff that I knew. The relationships between American interests in Hawaii and other imperial ambitions (e.g. the Philippines) was something that I had known in concept without any detailed connecting thread. As a person working in technology who did actually learn Morse Code (albeit briefly and I don't remember much of I now) I also find it amusing that Morse himself has a painting of people who I learned to dislike, hanging in a place that I actually do like.

Much in the same way that Howard Zinn will personalize and make a student reevaluate their own ideas of American history, Sarah Vowell makes it very easy to make me reevaluate those things about Hawaiian History that I though I understood...not well exactly....but with the comprehension of someone who got an A- in Hawaiian History in high school at Kam.


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