Lee Ellen's Reviews > Unfamiliar Fishes

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
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Jul 29, 11

bookshelves: culture-revolution-etc, essays, history

In “Unfamiliar Fishes,” Sarah Vowell examines the history of Hawaii. Her writing is pleasingly sarcastic, even cheeky at times, though this element is much more prevalent in the beginning of the book as she describes her own travels through the paradisaical island. As the narrative moves forward, the focus shifts much more to the history of the island and the chain of events that brought Hawaii from sovereign kingdom to United States protectorate. Her account is quite fair, considering everything that was lost and gained with an even hand. While she does examine the toll contact with the West had on Hawaiian natives, she also describes the first missionaries with much empathy. Where I expected a polemic against meddlesome missionaries, I received instead a history of well-meaning people who risked much and gained little to educate the natives and bring the message of salvation to their wild shores. Although I learned much, it seems a disservice to call this book a history book: the storytelling was vibrant and interesting and never dry. Now I want to go back and read her others.


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