by James Michener

Hardcover, 1959



"[A] mammoth epic of the islands, [a] vast panorama, wonderful."THE BALTIMORE SUNAmerica's preeminent storyteller, James Michener, introduced an entire generation of readers to a lush, exotic world in the Pacific with this classic novel. But it is also a novel about people, people of strength and character; the Polynesians; the fragile missionaries; the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos who intermarried into a beautiful race called Hawaiians. Here is the story of their relationships, toils, and successes, their strong aristocratic kings and queens and struggling farmers, all of it enchanting and very real in this almost mythical place.

Library's rating


(812 ratings; 4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Michener writes in a clunky style and with mostly wooden dialogue--and yet I kept turning the pages and found this an amazing reading experience. I've read that Michener was an inspiration for both Rutherford and Uris, and I can see the family resemblance in novels of theirs such as Sarum and Exodus. (Even if Exodus was published before Hawaii.) By selectively looking at certain families and individuals, Michener attempts to tell the story of a place, the sweep of its history, and in all ways this novel screams epic. It's not a great book--but it is entertaining and at times thought-provoking.

The opening phrase is "millions upon millions of years ago" and the first brief section, "From the Boundless Deep" tells of the formation of the Hawaiian islands and how life took hold there. "From the Sun-Swept Lagoon" tells of the peopling of the island in 813AD by stone age people from Bora Bora, the ancestors of the Kanakoas, whose knowledge of navigation and astronomy allowed them to travel thousands of miles--bringing with them breadfruit, coconut, taro, banana--and slaves.

The next section, "From the Farm of Bitterness" was where I became enraptured with the book. It tells of the coming a thousand years later of the American Missionaries from New England in 1822. The later sections are more complex as other families, other cultures are woven into the narrative, and so those sections feel more dry and journalistic to me, and rarely do individual characters in those sections stand out. But here we have a more stark clash of cultures, between the Pagan Hawaiians and the Christian Americans--as well as the character I find the most fascinating in the book because of his tragic contradictions--Abner Hale, who is a mix of admirable, deplorable, and exasperating. When Abner opens his church, he chooses a slave as its first member and dares preach against the institution to the most powerful in the land, telling them this slave, this "foul corpse" has a soul equal to theirs. Yet to the end of his days he's incapable of seeing even Christian converts among the Hawaiians as anything but "heathen" and opposes intermarriage. He lovingly translates the Bible into Hawaiian--but won't allow his children to learn the language.

The next section, "From the Starving Village" picks up in China, and deals with the settling of Chinese into the land brought in as plantation workers. Char Nyuk Tsin is the indomitable matriarch of the Kee clan and this section takes us through fire, plague, the leper colony at Molokai and how sugar was the driving force behind the coup against the Hawaiian monarchy and American annexation.

"From the Inland Sea" brings in the Japanese through following the Sakagawas--and this was my second favorite part of the book, and among the most moving, as Michener depicts Pearl Harbor and the fight of Japanese Americans for full citizenship as soldiers fighting in Europe and then through one character takes us through a tour of the rest of Polynesia contrasting it to Hawaii. Michener lived through this era, serving in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II--which might be one reason why he can bring the time and place so vividly to life.

The book ends with "The Golden Man" taking us from the end of World War II to the brink of statehood in 1959. Even that late in the book there were some insights and depictions that surprised me and a deft use of irony. One thing I didn't think worked. A couple of times in previous sections there was a line where the narrator intrudes with an "I" statement. There's a page studded with this in the beginning of the last section, and then the last few paragraphs reveal this to be the "memoir" of one of the characters. I don't think that fits the personality and arc of the character, and I would have preferred the God's-eye omniscience had been kept to the last. Although it does make me think how many of the opinions expressed in the novel should be seen as Michener's, and what is really the character's and thus should be seen at an ironic distance. I also wouldn't agree at all points with the narrator's take on history and economic forces. However, this was one big fat book I'm very glad I read through.
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LibraryThing member CurrerBell
Poorly written, particularly as the book meanders on (show, don't tell); and while the earlier segments on the indigenous Polynesians, the missionaries, and the Chinese were interesting, the portion on the Japanese was trite and cliched. (In fairness, the sympathetic portrayal of Japanese-American WW2 soldiers' patriotism may have been more interesting in 1959, when hostile wartime memories of Japan were current.)… (more)
LibraryThing member bcrowl399
The beauty of James Michener's writing is the detail. I always learn an enormous amount. I can only imagine what it would be like to be one of his researchers. What a great job that would be. I never knew or appreciated Hawaii as I did after reading this book. All of my biases and preconceived notions about the islands were reduced to ash. The truth is much richer than anyone can imagine.… (more)
LibraryThing member justine28
I was a little bit afraid of this thick book at first, but it turned out to be very interesting and beautifully written from the very first pages throughout. It’s a historical fiction novel based on the history of the islands of Hawaii. From the geological formation of the islands, through arrival of first peoples across the Pacific from Bora Bora, the huge changes that the American missionaries brought with them, up till the demographic and political changes of the 19th and 20th century. Truly beautiful story, interesting even though not always very likeable characters - all in all really enjoyed all 900-plus pages of this book. Would highly recommend to anyone planning to visit the islands - it certainly helped me understand and appreciate this area much better ahead of my upcoming trip.… (more)
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Michener's book starts us at the very beginning and then we see how the idyllic lives of the native are spoiled by the interference of well-meaning missionaries. Not always historically accurate, Michener still delivers a historical novel that moves us and convinces us we have seen the kernel of "truth."
LibraryThing member bigorangecat
This is a true "guilty pleasure." I only read it once and won't read it again, but I gotta admit, it made an impact. Quite enhanced the movie.
LibraryThing member hellbent
Since Michener was famous for his research, the historical authenticity should be reliable.
LibraryThing member mccin68
Epic span covering the creation of the island from volcanic forces to it's induction as a State. The population of the island begins with explorers from Bora Bora making a treacherous excurion to find new land. they bring with them their native plants, traditions and Gods to the desolate island. The second section covers the arrival of the american missionaries who came to dominate the island. Hale, Whipple, Hoxworth and Hewlett and their wives brought catholicism, western values, landownership and disease helping to destroy the rich polynesian culture.… (more)
LibraryThing member santhony
Good Michener historical fiction novel with a worthy subject.
LibraryThing member LibrarysCat
This is the first Michener book that I read and I loved it so much that I have read all of the rest of them with only a few exceptions. The quality writing makes it seem you are a part of the story.
LibraryThing member Suuze
I read this book long ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. Michener's research, as always, was thorough, and made this most enjoyable book a learning tool as well. I made it my goal back then (20 years ago) to see Hawaii in person, and have done so many times. It was this book that helped me understand (as best as possible) the native Hawaiian culture and it's people, making my trips there everlastingly rewarding.I have read it three time over the years and will read it again.… (more)
LibraryThing member rampaginglibrarian
The first James Michener book i ever read, i think i was in the eighth grade or something, and it totally sucked me in. Over 1000 pages--took me about a week to read. The total history of Hawaii from formation of the island itself to modern days.
LibraryThing member Iudita
Lets face it - you have to be a certain personality to enjoy a book like this. Someone who pays attention to detail. I thought this book was fantastic. When you turn the last page, you really feel like you've accomplished something. Like you have just been on a big journey. This book is certainly an investment of your time and attention and it is very well worth it.… (more)
LibraryThing member jpsnow
Another of Michener's fascinating epics about a specific place. I read Hawaii during my first visit there. It's a great story, with enough about each time period to present a fairly balanced view of the islands' history.
LibraryThing member LillyParks
A Great Historical Fiction....Lilly Parks

I read this about three years ago, and I still enjoy reading it again whenever the urge strikes me. The book fairly accurately tells the story of Hawaii. The more you read the more you can learn about the people, history, and religion of these wonderful islands. The book does not portray Hawaii as a sunny vacation spot for rich americans, it's shown in it's true beautiful form. It starts when the Polynesians came to Hawaii, next other settlers came to Hawaii, and on to almost the present day.

It's just a great historical novel. Highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member sdorsey
A fascinating way to learn history
LibraryThing member ChazziFrazz
This had been on my TBR shelf since 2012 and I finally decided to read it. I like to read at least one, if not more, deep and many paged book a year and this was the one. I took my time as it was not a simple plot but rather an interweaving of a number of plots. To me it was as if I was reading 5 books under one cover. Each could have almost stood alone as one book, but yet there were references to the previous 'books.'

The first was the formation of the islands, before there was any animal or human life. It was a bit drawn out for me. Describing the volcanic action that caused the build up of layers, creating the actual islands.

The second was the arrival of the people and the history and reason for them to come to the islands and establish themselves. This was the story of the people that became the inhabitants of the islands and became known as the Hawaiians. How they came to be there, their previous history and home. It again was a bit drawn out, but I figured that that was to impress the difficulty of their journey from their original home to this new one. The people were the ancestors of the Kanakoa family.

The third was the arrival of the missionaries who came to 'civilize' the 'savages' by introducing the Hawaiians to Christianity and its lifestyle. Changing the original inhabitants' lives and beliefs to align with theirs. This involved the Hale, Whipple, Hewlett, Janderses and Hoxworths families. These families became the leaders and controllers of the islands. They basically overtook the Hawaiians' place.

The fourth was the arrival of the Chinese and Japanese, who were brought over to work as slaves in the sugar cane and pineapple fields. Enticed with the story that they would only be there for a short while, save up a good sum of money and return to their homelands. Their lives were not easy, nor were they able to save up a good sum of money to return to their homelands. This brought in the the Kee family (China) and Sakagawa family (Japan).

The fifth covers these families and how they have inter-meshed through business, land ownership and marriage. How their cultures existed side-by-side and also combined. It ends in the 1950s, having started in about the 800s.

It is definitely not a quick read. Taking time gave me the ability to think about the people and what was happening to them and their world. I amy not have been there, but I felt that I had a little knowledge of what things may have been like. I don't feel that it was a waste of time to read this. I have read Michener before and know that he does thorough research and his writing is solid.

Yup, a good read for me.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5563. Hawaii, by James A. Michener (read 18 Jun 2018) This is the sixth Michener novel I have read and the first since I read his Chesapeake on 6 July 2000. It tells of the coming of Polynesians to Hawaii, then of the coming of New England missionaries in 1820, and of the coming of Japanese and Chinese and in typical Michener fashion tells of their descendants through the years, right up to 1954. probably the best part was the account of the Japanese-Americans fighting in Europe during World War Ii, which I think had some historical accuracy. The book was published in 1959 but does not tell of the attainment of statehood in 1959. The accounts of the voyages of the Tahitians and the missionaries are vivid and exciting, but there are lots of dull pages in the 1150 page novel. And though there are fictional characters who supposedly did brilliantly at Harvard Law I was underimpressed at the discussions of legal matters and of lawyers. The book is far too long and one less determined than I am to finish what I start would have quit long before the last page. Will I read anything more by Michener. I would say it is doubtful.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cygnus555
As with most Michener, I enjoy the beginning of the book but then get tired of the style.
LibraryThing member IsotropicJoseph
So far, I've read 18.0530973% percent of Hawaii as of 28 August 2009. I'm not sure if I'll finish it or not.

Amazing and terrible all at the same time. On one hand, the research is astounding, the story complex, the historical accuracy fascinating. On the other, the characters are as deep as a paper towel, their motivations flat, their tone one dimensional.

That being said, I'm glad I'm working my way through it.
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LibraryThing member DeborahCThomas
Proud to say I've finally read a Michener book, but boy was it a challenge. I love Hawaii and looked forward to learning about it. For that reason alone I'm glad I read it. Don't think I'll tackle another Michener though.
LibraryThing member KimSalyers
couldn't get into this book
LibraryThing member blnq
I got 50 pages from the end and then packed it in. It's long, really long.

In fairness to Mr. Michener, I did like most of the book but found the move into modern day Hawaii a little boring, so I just quit.

LibraryThing member annbury
Long as hell, but well worth reading. His characterization of Abner Hale, the original missionary, is excellent, even though the person himself is dreadful. I was given this as a Christmas gift prior to going to Hawaii for the first time, and it should make the trip more interesting.
LibraryThing member wareagle78
Typical Michener. Detailed, thoughtful, spanning a long history in a digestible fashion.


Random House

Original publication date

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