Pre-vacation reading, Hawaii edition

I’m in the habit of getting to know about a place before I venture there. What’s the purpose of travel, if not to learn?

In celebration of my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary, Bugman and I accompanied them on a trip to Hawaii last month.

I perused recommended reading lists and used bookstore catalogs, and managed to read (or mostly read) the following books before arriving on the islands.

Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport

I greatly appreciated the broad backdrop of Hawaiian history in this book, as well as the nuances of race and identity it presented. I have thought about Shark Dialogues several times in the context of discussions on race relations in the United States.

I found the construction of the book and some of the language awkward, however, so I can’t recommend it without hesitation.

The book begins with an introduction of one chapter for each of its main characters – matriarch Pono and four of her granddaughters. Then it veers into several chapters of ancestral backstory before settling into what I think was the strongest part of the book – telling Pono’s story. Then, abruptly, Pono becomes a secondary character, and the book shifts focus to the granddaughters. I wound up skimming through some of the later chapters as I found myself losing interest.

There are a few distracting flow-of-consciousness episodes in the book that could have been left aside. I rather wish several graphic sex scenes could have been cut from those later chapters as well, as they prevented me from recommending the book to my mother-in-law.

Overall, I’m glad to have read this book before traveling to Hawaii.

Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen by Liliuokalani

This book, or a summary of this book, should be required reading for anyone who visits Hawaii, as well as for American History students. Hawaii is not just any old state. As numerous histories point out, Hawaii is the only state to encompass a royal palace – Ioloni Palace.

Written in the language of the turn of the 20th century, this book can be trying to read at times, particularly through the many descriptions of social engagements and royal receptions (which I believe Liliuokalani included in the book to contrast against her later treatment). However, her writings clearly illuminate an injustice perpetuated against the Hawaiian people by American citizens and, ultimately, by the United States government.

Want the Cliffs Notes version? Try reading Public Law 103-150, an apology to Native Hawaiians passed 100 years after the overthrow of Liliuokalani’s government in 1893.

A passage that struck me in particular was the following, describing Liliuokalani’s thoughts as she travels through the United States in 1896:

Miles after miles of rich country went by as we gazed from the windows of the moving train, and all this vast extent of territory which we traversed belonged to the United States; and there were many other routes from the Pacific to the Atlantic with an equally boundless panorama. Here were thousands of acres of uncultivated, uninhabited, but rich and fertile lands, soil capable of producing anything which grows, plenty of water, floods of it running to waste, everything needed for pleasant towns and quiet homesteads, except population. . . And yet this great and powerful nation must go across two thousand miles of sea, and take from the poor Hawaiians their little spots in the broad Pacific, must covet our islands of Hawaii Nei, and extinguish the nationality of my poor people, many of whom have now not a foot of land which can be called their own. And for what? In order that another race-problem shall be injected into the social and political perplexities with which the United States in the great experiment of popular government is already struggling? …

Kauai: The Separate Kingdom by Edward Joesting

I managed to get about 3/4 of the way through this book before I ran out of steam. I definitely learned some things, but I found it hard to stay interested in the litany of dates, places, and names, and wound up reading many pages over and over again without absorbing the info.

The first two chapters, before Captain Cook and the whalers showed up, were most interesting to me.

(Wouldn’t “Captain Cook and the Whalers” make a good band name?)

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