Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

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Fans of Sarah Vowell's unique takes on American history will not be disappointed with her latest offering, Unfamiliar Fishes. Here she brings her familiar sharp sense of humor and infectious enthusiasm to the subject of our nation's 50th state, Hawaii. Vowell explores the island state's journey from independent kingdom to American possession, examining the cultural clashes and geographical challenges along the way.

Hawaii is largely regarded as little more than a vacation paradise, home to sunny beaches, Pearl Harbor, and President Obama. Before Western incursion it had a self-contained culture with its own religion, organization, and royal lineage. Colonization began with missionaries from New England looking to "Christianize" and "civilize" the inhabitants, and then later as an outpost for Pacific sailors looking for shore leave and (ahem) a good time.

Vowell provides a breezy overview of this history with little romanticism and ample sarcasm but without the strident anti-Western polemics one often finds in historical revisions like this. The tone of the book is at times melancholy, but she balances this with her pop-culture informed wit and sweet descriptions of adventures with her sister Amy and nephew Owen, whom her readers will recognize from previous books. Unfamiliar Fishes is a great addition to the growing Sarah Vowell collection and an informative yet light read.

Submitted by Brett @ Washington Park

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This page contains a single entry by Jacki published on May 13, 2011 8:54 AM.

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