Book Review: “Unfamiliar Fishes” by Sarah Vowell

This book describes the history of Hawaii, how it was like originally in its own kingdom, which was savagely consolidated by King Kamehameha, to its being annexed by the United States and its statehood. In a way, all the people, the whalers, sailors, imported labors and the foreign conquerors are all unfamiliar fishes to the native Hawaiians.

The incestuous tradition of the early Kamehameha kingdom was not different than the Egyptians. Also, the Mormons were one the earliest settlers that influenced the religion of people and gave them their written language there. But given the economic necessity of growing sugar canes, many of the Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos workers were imported into the islands. The islands turned into a melting pot. After many generations of mixing, the people are all “cousins” as they often referred to one another.

The politics of US’s annexing Hawaii in the early 19th century coincided with the peak of imperialism was rather interesting. Politics have a way to explain away all evil doings in the name of precedences and strategic importance for the future.

This book also gave the history behind the famous Hawaiian song, Aloha Oe, written by the last Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani, who sang this song to Teddy Roosevelt during his inauguration. Of course, this book would probably not be of interest to people if it were not for President Obama’s being born and growing up in Hawaii.

The organization of the book is bit hard to follow on audiobook which I listened to. The author’s voice is not your usual professional voices but OK and there were many quotes voiced by a few famous people including Keanu Reeve. Overall, it was a casual, interesting book – well researched, not too serious and occasionally funny. I’ll be sure to bring this book along next time I plan to vacation there.